Why can’t we be foreign friends?

Forty percent of expatriates in Beijing think they have failed to interact with local Chinese, concluded a survey on “Sino-foreign integration.”

The unfinished survey has so far focused on Wangjing, Chaoyang district, home to a large percentage of the city’s South Korean community. But their experience does not necessarily reflect the experience of many of Beijing’s expats.

The survey was conducted by the University of International Business and Economics (UIBE) to contribute to studies about the “development status of Beijing’s international communities.”

They questioned 230 residents from three communities in Wangjing, and over 90 percent of respondents were South Korean. Over 40 percent agreed with the statement, “we want to have Chinese friends but we don’t have the access.”

“Most are [South] Korean employees and housewives living in the area from 25 to 45 years old,” Li Qianhui, a student in charge of the survey from UIBE, said on Tuesday.

“It’s difficult for them to find people to practice Chinese with, and the language is a big barrier to making friends,” she said.

Teachers of Chinese as a foreign language agree that students from other Asian countries face more difficulties.

Zhang Ziyan, a Chinese language teacher at Renmin University of China, said she finds foreign students from Asian countries would rather stay in their own social circles outside class.

“I think Asian students are shyer to approach local people,” Zhang said, “and they talk more about conflicts with their Chinese landlords, and how they are treated unfairly because ‘they are foreigners.’ Many feel more comfortable to stay in their native networks.”

An anonymous South Korean female living in Tuanjiehu thinks her compatriots are not exposed enough to local culture, even if they want to.

“My cousin was sent to a Korean international school after the family moved here, where all the students speak Korean,” she said, “but you can always make Chinese friends if you want, and I hung out with Chinese more after I came here.”

A Chinanews.com report on April 7 said over 86 percent of foreigners have a desire to grow and build long-term friendships with locals, but still 39 percent of international students in Beijing colleges said they seldom communicate with Chinese schoolmates.

Michael W. Ryan, an American student from Beijing Foreign Studies University, says he has more Chinese friends than Americans and dislikes the idea of being separated from Chinese students.

“It’s always important to enhance learning the local culture and local habits,” Ryan said, “it’s a problem if we can’t live together with Chinese friends.”

Chris Oniya, an American student at UIBE, also finds it is not difficult to befriend the Chinese, as many turn to him for English tutoring.

“Many Chinese people will come to us and want to practice their oral English. Sometimes I don’t like that, but it’s OK for us to find a language partner,” Oniya said, “and some Chinese students think it’s decent to have a Western friend.”

Li said they will survey Maizidian and the CBD, both in Chaoyang district, and Wudaokou, in Haidian district, next year.

“Things could be different in those areas for foreigners to make Chinese friends,” Li said, “We’ll see.”

Global Times

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