3 things Chinese students like about Adelaidians/Australians

People of Adelaide


Posted on 21 Oct 2019

中国留学生喜欢澳洲阿德人的三大特质- 中澳比较之人物篇

"Cultures are like these colourful leaves. Our differences add multi-layers to the world, so it becomes a colourful and interesting place to live."
Xueqian (Chien) Zhang, International Student Advocate.

Something about me:

I came to Adelaide six years ago as an international student. Adelaide is the first foreign city I’ve been to, and it’s like my second home now. While I was a student, I was working at the University of South Australia as a U-buddy (Student Service Assistant) and International Student Ambassador at StudyAdelaide. I was also teaching people Chinese. After graduation, I have been working in the education industry for over three years. My passion is to help and inspire international students by sharing my personal experience and to be a cultural bridge to stop misunderstandings between nations.

In this post, I am going to focus on people from Adelaide. From my personal experience (mainly), as well as many of the Chinese students I have interviewed, some of the best characteristics of Adelaidians are that they are:

  • Welcoming and friendly
  • Expressive
  • Direct

Welcoming and friendly (laid back)

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At StudyAdelaide's 20 Year Anniversary Gala Dinner with My StudyAdelaide Family.

“Oh, are they talking to me?” I wondered.

It took me a while to get used to it and, as they say, started to act as the Romans do :) A 23-year-old female student who is studying a Master of Professional Accounting shared a similar feeling with me. She said: “I like this human interaction, because I am always greeted by strangers on the street or drivers on the bus. So welcoming.”

Also, people here like to make a positive comment about you, and that can come even from a stranger, “I like your dress!” or “You have a lovely smile”. That really brought warmth to my life. And I learned to be more observant towards nice little things about people too. Seeing their happy faces after I gave them genuine compliments too also made my heart sing.

Another student, a 21-year-old girl who just graduated from bachelor of Nursing, told me: “My favourite place is Mt Barker, because I was there for my internship. The people in the hospital were so friendly, and I’ve received my first thank you letter from one of my patients.”

Why do people behave like that then? Well, after research and consulting my lovely friends, I summarised two main reasons below:

  • Australia is a big land with a small nation, far from the rest of the world. This developed a community culture within the nation: co-operative and inclusive.
  • The country is a multicultural nation of immigrants. Earlier settlers moved to here for a fresh start and get away from the strict class system back home. Also, locals are used to high levels of immigration. They like novelty and interesting people, food and entertainment.
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At A Christmas Party with My Colleagues.

Expressive

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At Australia-China Emerging Leaders Summit as a Delegate.

During my studies, I was so impressed by how confident and articulate my local classmates were during our discussions in class. One noticeable difference is they interrupt while another person is talking. Whereas in China, we don’t normally do that. Because that is considered to be rude. Therefore, a lot of times, I waited and waited, but I didn’t get a chance to talk in the end. That is a big learning curve for me. I was told that I need to speak up instead of waiting to be asked. 

There’s not much hierarchy within the society. Everyone has the same right to join the conversation. So interruptions are not always considered to be rude. Instead, people think this is a sign of engagement and interest. I started to change, and become better and better. So if you resonate with this situation, please remember:

Don’t worry. Just relax and be patient. Take baby steps, and you will get there eventually. Trust me :)

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At an Australian Etiquette Session for Our New Students During Orientation as a Host.

Locals tend to say “thank you”, “please” and “sorry” a lot, and express their emotions verbally to one another (e.g., love and gratitude). Whereas we don’t say those much in China. We like to put love and appreciation in our hearts without showing them by words. If we do that, our friends will think we do not regard them as close friends. Politeness is more used among acquaintances. So if you are a newcomer to Australia, please use those words above more often. Otherwise, people might think you are a bit impolite. That’s why being aware of cultural difference is crucial.

Being expressive is also shown in their body language. You will find a lot of hugs here. I still remember the first restaurant I went to, I had a lovely conversation with a waitress. Before leaving, she hugged me and kissed my cheeks. I got so shocked. I’ve never experienced that in China before. Back home, we are much more reserved. We don’t even hug or kiss our parents/friends, let alone strangers. We are really hanxu (restrained). People do not feel comfortable expressing emotions and feelings through intimate physical contact. You can also find that in sports too. Chinese people are usually better and more interested in individual sports with less body contact, such as badminton and table tennis.

Why?

  1. Digging into Chinese history, we have a traditional manner system called “Manner”(礼). That is, you do not touch other’s body without reason especially between a man and a woman. We have our own traditional way instead, such as bow (with hands folded in front) or handshake.
  2. We show our love through actions instead of intensely personal and intimate declarations. For example, when we dine out, we tend to cut the meat or pick some food and bring it to our family/friends’ plates.

However, I have started to like hugs more and become more expressive too. Because having physical contact with people can be very warm and loving. I remember once when I was feeling down, my friend said, “Let me give you a hug”, and she did. That really melted my heart, and I knew she had my back (showing care for me).

Direct

We call countries where people are generally very direct, like Australia, low-context countries. They tell you what they really think. Whereas in China (a high-context country), we need to put more efforts into guessing people’s real intentions. I definitely prefer the Australian directness, because by nature I am just not good at guessing. I think guessing can also create misunderstanding sometimes, because people have different interpretations. So it’s much better to let the other person know what you really mean/think. When my friend and landlord first told me something I did that really upset her, I felt very confronted. But later on, I was pleased that she told me. Because otherwise, I would have never known she was unhappy with me. Being direct, in a respectful way, helps to build a harmonious relationship in the long term.

One student who is 23 years old and studying Master of Accounting and Finance totally agreed with me too. He said: “Life became much easier here. If I don't like something, I can just tell them my opinion directly.”

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My Unexpected Birthday Lunch Arranged By My Friends/Landlords :)

Why are we so different?

Two main reasons.

  • Our values differ

China values collectivism (giving a group priority over each individual in it) while Australians are more into individualism (giving the individual priority). Therefore, in China, to be ambiguous helps to maintain the harmonious relationship and prevent a loss of face. For example, not knowing the answer to a question loses face. So it’s the listener’s responsibility to draw meaning from the speaker by posture, expression and tone of voice. However, in Australia, the speaker has the prime responsibility to make their message understood to their listeners. Therefore, ‘Do you understand what I mean?’ is a very commonly asked question here. Also, when doing a presentation in Australia, PREP- point, reason, example, reiteration of a point - is extremely recommended to make communication clearer for everyone. Collectivism is also shown in the way of narration and explanation. When introducing people, the Chinese give ranks and titles before the names, whereas Australians give names first, then introduce their ranks and tiles.

  • Chinese characters

Modern Chinese characters have the origin in pictographs or symbolic drawings of objects or actions. That gave rise to our philosophical expression. For example, '日' (sun) is a circle with a black dot in the middle, representing the sun.

My change

In China, we were told that you should never speak to a stranger, because you do not want to get tricked. However, here, I have been the one to initiate conversations with people whom I don’t know.

Do you know?

To improve my English, I initiated the conversations while I was waiting for my bus or on the bus. It is very helpful for your English fluency. Highly recommended :) If a person refuses to talk to you, so what? Change to another person. You didn’t know either of them anyway :) Remember, to make the most of your experience here.

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At a Hike with My Colleague/Friends at Mt Lofty.

Cultures are like these colourful leaves. Our differences add multi-layers to the world, so it becomes a colourful and interesting place to live :)

Mt Lofty is also a special place for me because of a loving story behind. When I first hiked there with my friends, we didn’t know we missed the last bus home. We were so worried about getting home, so we waved at cars, hoping to get a ride. Then one car stopped and took us home safely. I also became friends with these two strangers in the end. Until now they still refer me as ‘a girl from the car’ :) Thanks again, Anthony and Michelle!

If you have any interesting stories from your time in Australia or if you have different insights, you are welcome to share them with me. I look forward to hearing about it! :)

Article by

Xueqian (Chien) Zhang

Xueqian (Chien) Zhang

International Student Advocate ● Cultural Ambassador ● Radio Host ● Blogger ● Storyteller

I came to Adelaide six years ago as an international student. Adelaide is the first foreign city I’ve been to, and it’s like my second home now. My passion is to help and inspire international students by sharing my personal experience and to be a cultural bridge.


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