Editor’s Note: It’s that time of the year! Students are arriving US college campus from all over the world and Chinese students continue to be the largest international population represented here. This post is part of a new series on “Welcoming Today’s Chinese Students.” The writer has engaged with Chinese students for many years – in China and in the US. He provides helpful tips as you engage with Chinese students in their first month on campus.

If you have spent any amount of time around a college campus in August and September you are aware that almost every campus in America has a significant number of international students and visiting scholars arriving from China. Depending on the campus, there may be several thousand or several dozen. After many years of living near college campuses throughout the country I began to realize that there a few ways of engaging new students that seemed to be most effective and encouraging for them.  Here are three:

Get to Know Them

China is a big country with subcultures and customs as diverse as you would find in different regions of Europe.  For example, you might be surprised to find out that they are from a place in North China where a steamed bun (mantou) is the staple starch and not rice. One way we can get to know them is by listening to them and getting to know their unique story.  

Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable.”  

~David Augsburger.

Here are some ideas:

  • Ask them questions about their home and their life back in China. Pull out a map on your iPad and have them show you their hometown, their university town, and maybe the town of their ancestors.
  • Ask them about the food, the culture, and what their city is famous for in China. Most Chinese students will be excited to tell you about the food they miss from home.
  • Ask them about their family, their hobbies, and why they decided to study in the United States. So remember, this is a time to get to know them and their hopes, dreams, and maybe fears. Don’t spend too much time talking about yourself or American culture.

At the same time, we want to be sensitive about certain topics like politics (U.S. or China). Keep the conversation focused on culture and customs.  If they are a political science or law student, an opportunity may arise later for discourse, but the first meetings must be about getting to know each other.  Also note that the range of students that come from China is very broad. At the same event you might meet a wealthy urban 18 year old college freshman and a 46 year old visiting professor with his wife and two children from a more rural part of China. Their English levels will also vary. Almost all of the Chinese students will have a large English vocabulary, but many of them have never really practiced listening or speaking in English.


Offer to Help Them

From packing their life in two suitcases to finding an apartment in a foreign country, many students found it overwhelming the first few weeks here in the U.S. They might need a ride to Target or Wal-Mart, the grocery store, or the Asian supermarket. They may not even know that Craigslist or thrift stores are great places to buy stuff at lower prices. They may also ask for help setting up utilities, a cell phone, or getting a driver’s license. While this is a great opportunity for us to come alongside them, here are a few tips as you offer help:

  • Ask them to confirm they need help.  Sometimes an international student will say yes to something they don’t need just to be polite. 
  • Don’t help if you don’t have knowledge or experience. For example a student may ask you questions about their visa. Direct them to people and places who have expertise, such as the International Student Office, to help them with their visa.
  • There are quite a few groups (Chinese student association, older students, local Chinese churches, etc.) that are also willing to help new Chinese students; so if someone already has the resources they need, try to see if there are other students who might need your help.  

Invite Them to Your Home

Being invited to an American friend’s home not only communicated your care but they also see it as a great honor. And here are a few things I learned to be a good host:

  • Early in the semester they have more free time, so it is one of the best times to show hospitality. Offer to pick them up.
  • Try not to make food that is too exotic or unique. Ask some older Chinese students what are some American foods they like. Normally, pasta dishes seem to be the most popular. A taco bar has also been a hit, and it’s a new experience for most of them. Baking desserts together will amaze them (it’s very rare that students would have an oven at home in China).
  • Holidays are also great time to invite them over. One of the most important Chinese holidays in the Fall semester is the Mid-Autumn Festival. It falls around September each year (the exact date changes each year, similar to Easter). You can invite students to your home around this time and ask them to share about holidays in China with you. They will most likely bring mooncakes. During the weekend closest to the holiday the Chinese student association usually has a party, but many Chinese students are still hoping for other ways to celebrate.

I hope this helps.  Thanks for loving and caring for our guests from China.  I know they are grateful for your hospitality and care.

Thoughts to Ponder

Which tip was most helpful to you? 

What are some other ways that have been helpful for you to connect with Chinese students? 

What have you found challenging to get to know Chinese students on your campus?

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