Chi­nese stu­dents in Aus­tralia need to make more friends

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - LIFE -

Chi­nese stu­dents face many bar­ri­ers when it comes to mak­ing Aus­tralian friends, ac­cord­ing to an in­ter­na­tional ed­u­ca­tion ex­pert, who said it is a big mis­take to un­der­es­ti­mate the ben­e­fits of so­cial in­te­gra­tion.

When it comes to mak­ing friends with do­mes­tic stu­dents, “it’s not hard, but it’s def­i­nitely not easy,” Chi­nese in­ter­na­tional stu­dent Vin­cent told Xin­hua.

The 24-year-old Mac­quarie Univer­sity stu­dent ex­pressed the view that it was par­tic­u­larly dif­fi­cult for Chi­nese stu­dents, and ac­cord­ing to Pro­fes­sor Ly Tran from Deakin Univer­sity in Mel­bourne, Vin­cent is not alone in feel­ing the dif­fi­cul­ties of so­cial in­te­gra­tion.

Tran’s spe­cialty is in­ter­na­tional ed­u­ca­tion, and through­out her re­search, she found that there is some truth to the long-stand­ing stereo­type that Chi­nese stu­dents tend to so­cial­ize among them­selves, and many do not be­friend lo­cal stu­dents.

How­ever, this is not al­ways a re­flec­tion of their own mo­ti­va­tions, as most Chi­nese stu­dents want so­cial in­te­gra­tion, Tran told Xin­hua, but there is of­ten a gap be­tween their ex­pec­ta­tions and the re­al­ity that faces them when they ar­rive in Aus­tralia to start their stud­ies.

“So­cial and aca­demic in­te­gra­tion is re­ally im­por­tant for Chi­nese in­ter­na­tional stu­dents into Aus­tralian uni­ver­si­ties, and it is def­i­nitely a crit­i­cal is­sue,” Tran stressed.

“We have stu­dents from a va­ri­ety of back­grounds, and they come with their own mo­ti­va­tions and so­cial prepa­ra­tion prior to their de­par­ture, so we are deal­ing with a spec­trum of Chi­nese stu­dents, some are pre­pared for what to ex­pect and able to so­cial­ize eas­ily, and oth­ers are not.”

As she her­self was an in­ter­na­tional stu­dent hail­ing from Viet­nam, Tran is in­ter­ested in the va­ri­ety of fac­tors in play that con­trib­ute to the com­plex­ity of the so­cial in­te­gra­tion of Chi­nese in­ter­na­tional stu­dents into Aus­tralia. She said that al­though the lan­guage bar­rier is of­ten cited as the cause of the con­cerns raised, it is but a small part of a larger is­sue.

“English pro­fi­ciency can be a bar­rier to com­mu­ni­ca­tion, and the re­spon­si­bil­ity of im­prov­ing lan­guage skills is the re­spon­si­bil­ity of the Chi­nese stu­dent, that’s re­ally up to them,” Tran said.

How­ever, do­mes­tic Aus­tralian stu­dents also have an im­por­tant role to play, ac­cord­ing to the learned aca­demic, who said uni­ver­si­ties need to play a greater role in fa­cil­i­tat­ing so­cial op­por­tu­ni­ties be­tween their do­mes­tic and in­ter­na­tional stu­dents.

“One thing that I have found is that a lot of do­mes­tic stu­dents don’t see the value in in­ter­act­ing with Chi­nese in­ter­na­tional stu­dents, so they lack that in­her­ent mo­ti­va­tion, but it should all be about re­cip­ro­cal in­ter­ac­tion and mu­tual learn­ing,” Tran said.

“Chi­nese stu­dents can learn a lot from Aus­tralian stu­dents, and Aus- tralian stu­dents can learn a lot from Chi­nese stu­dents.”

Do­mes­tic stu­dents need to un­der­stand the “enor­mous amount of valu­able re­sources a Chi­nese in­ter­na­tional stu­dent brings with them to Aus­tralia, in terms of their cul­tural knowl­edge and global net­works,” Tran said, al­though she ac­knowl­edged that do­mes­tic stu­dents may also feel ner­vous about in­ter­act­ing with in­ter­na­tional stu­dents, for fear of a lack of com­mon ground and op­por­tu­ni­ties to fa­cil­i­tate con­ver­sa­tion.

Sarah, an in­ter­na­tional stu­dent at the Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy, Syd- ney, agreed a di­vide ex­ists be­tween do­mes­tic and in­ter­na­tional stu­dents, and al­though she ar­rived in Aus­tralia four years ago and lives on cam­pus, she still feels op­por­tu­ni­ties to make friends with lo­cal stu­dents are quite lim­ited.

“I have about one or two lo­cal friends, maybe they aren’t even friends, they are more like ac­quain­tances,” the 21-year-old con­ceded.

“It would be nice to have more, but know­ing it’s quite hard to make friends with lo­cals, I don’t feel that mo­ti­vated. Sure, we have class to­gether, but when se­mes­ter fin­ishes, we say good­bye.”

The fac­tors be­hind the so­cial­iza­tion of in­ter­na­tional stu­dents, in­clud­ing a lack of mo­ti­va­tion, are largely driven by pop­u­la­tion de­mo­graph­ics, ac­cord­ing to Tran, who noted that the sig­nif­i­cant Chi­nese com­mu­nity in Aus­tralia en­cour­ages Chi­nese stu­dents to “stick to­gether” and form cul­tural clus­ters.

“The Chi­nese com­mu­nity tends to form what is called a par­al­lel so­ci­ety, this means they may tend to so­cial­ize with peo­ple from a sim­i­lar back­ground, or only so­cial­ize with cona­tion­als,” Tran noted.

“This does pre­vent peo­ple from in­te­grat­ing and en­gag­ing, and ul­ti­mately form­ing a sense of be­long­ing to Aus­tralia, it im­pacts their over­all sense of con­nect­ed­ness.”

The con­cept of a “par­al­lel so­ci­ety” is one that Vin­cent has wit­nessed for him­self, and is in his eyes, one of the main rea­sons why it is par­tic­u­larly dif­fi­cult for Chi­nese stu­dents to make non-Chi­nese friends.

“The Chi­nese com­mu­nity in Aus­tralia, and par­tic­u­larly Syd­ney, is so huge, and that’s great but I think so­ci­ety should be like a bowl of salad, it should be mixed,” he said.

“In the sub­urb of Hurstville, there is a very big Chi­nese com­mu­nity, and you don’t have to reach out to other cul­tural com­mu­ni­ties, you have ev­ery­thing you need — from Chi­nese butch­ers to Chi­nese gro­cers, and Chi­nese staff at the post of­fice.”

“You don’t even have to speak English,” he added.

Tran noted that al­though be­ing part of a dom­i­nant group can “cre­ate a sense of com­fort and iden­tity re­in­force­ment,” th­ese groups also cre­ate bar­ri­ers to so­cial in­te­gra­tion, and dis­cour­age Chi­nese stu­dents from ven­tur­ing out of their com­fort zone

“When you are from the most pop­u­lous group, it’s very easy to find co-na­tion­als to so­cial­ize among,” she said.

“If we look at Burmese or Cam­bo­dian in­ter­na­tional stu­dents, there are much smaller groups of th­ese stu­dents, so per­haps they might so­cial­ize to­gether if they had the chance but be­cause of the lim­i­ta­tions, they know they have to reach out in or­der to make friends in their host coun­try.”

The large num­ber of Chi­nese in­ter­na­tional stu­dents in Aus­tralia is some­thing that Sarah felt has im­pacted her will­ing­ness to “reach out” to non-Chi­nese stu­dents, as it makes find­ing a friend much sim­pler.

“There are more Chi­nese stu­dents here than in­ter­na­tional stu­dents of other back­grounds, and I think peo­ple want to make friends with some­one who is from a sim­i­lar back­ground to them,” Sarah said.

“If some­one was the only per­son from their cul­tural group, then they would have no choice but to get fa­mil­iar with other cul­tures.”

Tran urged against stu­dents adopt­ing a lais­sez-faire at­ti­tude to­ward in­ter­act­ing with those from dif­fer­ent racial and cul­tural groups, and stressed that by not cap­i­tal­iz­ing on the op­por­tu­ni­ties to broaden their hori­zons, stu­dents could po­ten­tially be dam­ag­ing their fu­ture ca­reer prospects.

“So­cial­iz­ing into Aus­tralian so­ci­ety can help the stu­dents en­hance their in­ter­cul­tural un­der­stand­ing and knowl­edge, and even in­crease em­ploy­a­bil­ity, by the sim­ple act of ex­pand­ing their net­work,” Tran said.

Aus­tralia and other coun­tries in a sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion may miss out on the ben­e­fits of an in­ter­na­tion­al­ized ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem if such bar­ri­ers to so­cial in­te­gra­tion per­sist, Tran said, not­ing that “peo­ple con­nec­tions” are fun­da­men­tal to fu­ture pros­per­ity.

“With in­creas­ing transna­tional mo­bil­ity, as well as the growth of col­lab­o­ra­tions be­tween coun­tries, we could miss out on valu­able re­sources in terms of re­cip­ro­cal un­der­stand­ing and in­ter­na­tional knowl­edge,” she said.

“Th­ese Chi­nese in­ter­na­tional stu­dents are key ac­tors in mak­ing those im­por­tant con­nec­tions, and whether they choose to stay in Aus­tralia or go back to China, they have enor­mous po­ten­tial to form fu­ture con­nec­tions, and we shouldn’t un­der­es­ti­mate it.”

The stu­dents’ names have been al­tered for their pri­vacy.

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

So­cial and aca­demic in­te­gra­tion is re­ally im­por­tant for Chi­nese in­ter­na­tional stu­dents into Aus­tralian uni­ver­si­ties.

LIU XIAOJING / FOR CHINA DAILY

There is of­ten a gap be­tween their ex­pec­ta­tions and the re­al­ity that faces Chi­nese stu­dents when they ar­rive in Aus­tralia.

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