Breaking communication barriers

08:45, December 17, 2010      

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With the globalization of higher education, increasingly more foreign students are choosing to study in China. However, nearly 40 percent of the foreign students only occasionally communicated with their Chinese counterparts, according to a recent survey.

The data released by the Ministry of Education said that more than 230,000 students from 190 countries and regions studied in China's 610 universities and scientific research institutions in 2009.

Limited interaction

However, a survey of 100 foreign students in Beijing conducted by the Beijing-based Renmin University of China in March showed that more than 35 percent of the polled foreign students said they rarely interact with Chinese students.

And more than 39 percent of the respondents said they had no close Chinese friends. But 86 percent said they were willing to communicate more with Chinese.

Experts explained that integrating the lives of foreign and domestic students of different cultural backgrounds was a problem. They suggested that foreign and Chinese students be encouraged to communicate with one another through activities promoting interaction.

Various factors

There were a number of factors that affected the communication between the two groups, according to the survey. Cited were the way foreign students are managed, language barriers, cultural differences and taking the initiative to communicate.

"Isolating" the international students from Chinese students in "foreign only" classes and dorms was one of the biggest barriers, according to the survey.

"We lost more chances to communicate with Chinese students because our class is only consisted of foreign students," said Mike (pseudonym), a German student with Beijing Foreign Studies University.

Mike is a graduate student majoring in Chinese. He lives in the university apartment for foreign students, and said the separate dormitory arrangement also reduced the interaction times between the two groups.

Poor language skills

Han Duoying, a female Korean student with Shandong University at Weihai, agreed, but added that some Korean students chose to live with Chinese students so that they can improve their Chinese more quickly.

But Han said she could not live in a dorm for Chinese students. "I simply cannot bear living in a room without hot water and separate bathroom," she told the Global Times.

Han said due to her poor Chinese she rarely took part in the activities organized by Chinese students.

"I can't understand others and make myself well enough understood in these activities."

She said she prefers to stay in her dorm or in the classroom to learn Chinese with her Chinese tutor and also her classmate. "We can know more about one another and help each other like friends," Han said.

Few close friends

Han said she had only two close Chinese friends and studied together with one of them one to two hours a day. The German student Mike also said he met with his Chinese friends every ten days. "Three good Chinese friends, whom I can meet regularly, are enough for me, "he said.

"It's normal for foreign students to have only a few close Chinese friends," said Sun Xianyao, the deputy of International Exchange and Cooperation Department at the Communication University of China (CUC).

Sun said even the Chinese students themselves had a restricted number of good friends, let alone foreigners who usually have not stayed in China for long.

Sun said that management and cultural factors do not greatly influence communication between students from different countries and regions.

"It's the initiative to talk that weighs the most in their passion for communication," Sun said.

Making music together

Sun also said CUC had carried out many programs to create bridges for overseas and Chinese students, for example, "Music without Boundaries," competition in which foreign students sing Chinese songs while Chinese students sing foreign songs. It was held 12 times this year and has become very popular, she said.

"We also asked students majoring in Chinese to assist teaching foreign students so that they can have more opportunities to exchange their ideas," Sun added.

Dean Tjosvold, deputy of the Business Department of the Hong Kong-based Lingnan University has suggested establishing a "cooperative learning mode" to encourage students from different nations to work to accomplish tasks together. He made the suggestion at the International Symposium on the Development Strategy of Universities, held in Beijing in October.

By Jin Jianyu Source: Global Times
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