Imbibing a new culture

For young expats, getting to grips with China takes time, but colleges and society lend a helping hand to make the transition easier.

For overseas students in China, living in a different country with a culture and customs different from their own is not an easy thing to cope with. However, with support provided by the school, society and the efforts put in by students themselves, the culture shock can be kept to a minimum.

Last year, Ben Elmakias, a US graduate from the School of International Chinese Studies at East China Normal University in Shanghai, organized a Chinese corner in the city during his internship at the local institute of the Council on International Educational Exchange.

There, he taught foreigners about things that make life in China easier, such as how to use apps on their phone, including social media app WeChat, along with food delivery and online shopping apps.

“I helped them navigate the apps and find the buttons for buying and searching, because most foreigners needed a more culture-focused language corner where they didn’t only learn Chinese grammar,” says Elmakias.

Despite his familiarity with Chinese culture, the 28-year-old says his biggest culture shock was when he spent two years as a volunteer English teacher at Gansu Industry Polytechnic College in Tianshui city in Gansu province between 2015 and 2017.

“The food was a challenge, since I am a vegetarian,” he says. “And there were few non-meat options so it was hard to eat the same thing every day.”

To solve the problem, Elmakias invited groups of Chinese students to his apartment to teach him to cook Chinese food.

“That was a lot of fun and I learned even more about the Chinese during those gatherings, from why students chose the school, their worries about their studies, their attitudes toward marriage and the future, as well as their favorite movies.”

Knowing how to interact with people according to Chinese culture is also confusing for most foreigners, including Elmakias.

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