Whose Fault is it When American and International Students Don’t Mix?

Michigan State University very bravely posted this video, featuring a candid discussion among Chinese students and American students about the challenges in forming cross-cultural relationships. It prompted a lot of discussion among our bloggers over the weekend.

One person said that they agree that it can be difficult to form close relationships because Chinese and American students don’t always share the same interests (like American football). Someone else felt disheartened to hear some of the opinions from the American students, saying that it should be up to the American students just as much as the Chinese ones to open up communication and start building relationships. And a third said that schools don’t always do enough to facilitate this sort of relationship-building.

This question about the relationships between American and international students is something we’ve discussed before on this blog, and you may have seen in a recent post that we’re conducting a big survey on this topic (if you’re an American or international student, please TAKE THE SURVEY), so we’ll have a lot more insights to share soon.

In the meantime, watch this video and see what you think. Does it leave you feeling positive or negative about relations between American and international students? What do you think these students could or should have done to improve communication? Leave a comment and let us know!

» Read more opinions on this topic – is there such thing as a “Chinese student” or “Chinese experience,” or does it vary?

» Get Qian’s take on why tensions may exist on campuses that are rapidly internationalizing, and why improving the admissions process could help


  1. Fault is sometimes defined as lack or want rather than blame or causation. Thus recasting the question: Who is missing out or lacking or in want because students do not have or do not avail themselves of opportunities to positively interact with students who come from different backgrounds?

  2. In my opinion, the culture difference would take time to recognize. Certainly more chances of contact such as living under the same roof will speed up, that is the same as learning a language. Asian cultures have some common ground and still have difference in areas, that is the same as western cultures. Maybe the history of region has the impact on peoples’ philosophy of the meaning of life that generally makes the difference between Asian and western cultures. Although many Asians claim in no specific believe of religion, some religious culture is already in their roots by growing up in society.
    I heard a famous story about an American girl married and lived in a rural Japanese village many years ago. She made herself completely merged into the society and others villagers praised and accepted her as a native member of their conservative group. My friends and I were shock by her tremendous effort in dedication.
    The Christian culture has influenced Chinese culture since two thousand years ago. My family moved to Taiwan in 1950. My mother was a Catholic in her whole life. I was not imposed on any religious belief since young. In reality, I was influenced more by the society. Because my family background, I was curious about the religious doctrine in a few believes with open mind. But when I discussed with my classmates, I found most of them either showing no interested or strong resistance. From my view, recognition of other regions should not upset your God unless conversion. But not many people were willing to share my view.
    Chinese society has been affected by the socialist system. But I think this influence will be the same as many other cultures had impacted the Chinese culture in history, it is the choice of people. Certainly the difference between Chinese students and American students exists in many aspects and varies from person to person. The fundamental difficulty to remove the unnecessary misunderstanding is the barrier in mind to recognize the culture difference, in my humble opinion.

  3. I am an American living in China. I’ve been here for nearly seven years and have no plans to leave any time soon. I ended up here through the close relationship I built with my Chinese roommate in college.

    Being an Air Force brat, I had lived abroad as a child and was very interested in foreign languages and cultures and so chose to live in an ‘international dorm’ at my university in which about a third of the residents were Americans and the rest were internationals from all over the world. Because of my deep friendship with my roommate, built upon a year’s living together, I grew an interest in China and eventually began to study the language, history, and culture, and upon graduation, came to China to begin teaching English.

    Anyway, to make a long story short, I met my husband here and now we have a son. While he’s ethnically Tibetan, I find that there are a lot of cultural similarities between most Asians, whether Han or otherwise. Asian people don’t communicate, act, build relationships, or have fun in the ways that westerners do. These differences are incredibly difficult to overcome for both sides, even when both sides consist of people like me, my college roommate, and my husband, who are genuinely enthusiastic about learning, understanding, and overcoming those differences.

    What I find frustrating, is that in seven years, I have made very few close relationships with locals like the ones I have with my husband and my former college roommate. Of course, getting married, having a baby, and also working full-time have certainly cut down on my free time to build relationships with people, but my theory is that only through daily living together can the kinds of cultural differences discussed here really be overcome.

    If western universities really want to make a difference, they need to encourage international dorms in which American and foreign students live together, as roommates if possible! Perhaps some system of extra credit could be devised to encourage this on both sides? I don’t have all the answers, but I can say that these problems are alive and well on both sides of the world and it’s disheartening to see how ugly they can get from time to time. It’s natural to feel alienated and to react badly to that feeling, but people need to keep behavior in check if they don’t want to exacerbate the problems.

  4. Why must we play the “blame game” here by posing the question: “whose fault is it?” It’s no one’s fault. Did you ever stop to think that the Chinese students are coming out of a Communist regime? Hello………….. Communism doesn’t exactly foster trust now does it?

    It used to be in the olden day about 40 years back in time that colleges taught “critical thinking”. Too back they gave that up to teach “touchey-feelie”.

  5. I was a foreign student 30 years ago from Taiwan. I am a little surprised watching such impression has been not so much improved, regardless much less language barrier on those students. Over the years at here, I feel the attitude plays an important role because recognizing different culture could take effort in years, maybe generations. The language is just a part of culture.
    In school, I was told that I should be more outspoken so that Americans could know how to help, meaning to train, because I came here to learn. China must have done something right so that she can play an important role in the world today. Chinese students are here looking for improvements, not to be changed. American students can help if recognizing different culture is fun. It seems cutting down expectation can avoid frustration. Having a bonded friendship with different culture background should be taken as an advanced goal.
    With help via Internet, people can get information to recognize each other much easier than before. But to build a friendship needs similarity on some common ground. My relatives and I have a few second generation kids in college, who mentioned that was much easier getting along with other second generation Asians in school. To my best knowledge, none of them is raciest and I believe this happens in many other ethnic groups here. To iron out any difference in doubt, you can always get a lot of information from Web ONLY if you are willing to search.
    To get along with people in different culture is similar to improve our diet, not just trying a new dish. If you like to change your imperfect diet, you need an attitude to observe with eyes and brain, to taste, to watch the result in many tries to recognize. To reach out the world, we need to know many other cultures. What students can bring down to match some similarity to your potential friends needs a lot of thinking and practice, if they are serious in learning this issue. Sometimes we are discouraged by getting too much information in words that prevent us from actually taking action to verify such information, not to mention trying to label people first. It is easy being frustrated in experience without preparing proper attitude.

  6. Thanks for posting!

    The number of Chinese students in the U.S. grows roughly 30% on an annual basis (now 130,000 in total) and as average tuition for U.S. students are $7,605 (in-state) or $11,990 (out-of-state) while international students pay on average upwards $20,000 this is sure to continue. The drive for international students is further spurred by a coming drop by 50,000 in 2013-2015 in the number of U.S. High School graduates.

    When queried, 43% of international students say they are adversely impacted by cultural differences, a number that could be greatly reduced with cross cultural optimization of the in-take.

    Please read this case-study on the work we did with University of Nebraska as it targets the exact issues discussed in the video:

  7. I don’t know about Chinese culture, but American students often don’t mix well among themselves. People usually hang out with the friends they know. So why would it be surprising if a particular American does not go far out of her way to befriend Chinese students? She is not going far out of her way to befriend anybody.

    Why not look at this as an individual matter, rather than holding that Chinese people are somehow entitled to have American friends or that Americans are somehow entitled to have Chinese friends?

  8. A very useful piece. My 2 favorite parts: when the Chinese students talk about being afraid of the mentors at first, since they’re expecting those mentors to dole out punishment. And the American student w/the close-cropped hair, talking about how differences aren’t important… though somehow he’s not managed to navigate those “insignificant” differences to form relationships with Chinese students. Very common for Americans to downplay differences, as they value treating everyone the same (even if they’re not the same). Thanks for posting this.

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