Last night I had dinner with five Japanese people and one Chinese girl. Today I had lunch with three Indonesians, two Mongolians, three Japanese, and one Chinese. Such is the life of a foreigner on my campus.
I’m sure at a bigger university, or a bigger city in which there are many foreigners, the Japanese stick with the Japanese, and the Mongolians stick with the Mongolians. But on my campus, beggars can’t be choosers and we all find ourselves a part of the “foreigner” group.
There is of course a small rift, despite how few of us there are. We tend to separate into the English-speaking group (which is mostly the foreign teachers) and the Non-English speaking group (which is mostly the foreign students). There are a few of us that float between both groups, but to do so means you have to speak both Chinese and English. (For instance Ryan didn’t come to dinner last night because he can’t speak Chinese and knew he would feel uncomfortable.)
For the most part the foreign students don’t speak much English. Most of them know English, and if I say a few words they understand me no problem (they also know enough vocabulary to throw me a bone when I’m floundering.) And yes, there are times when the conversation can be a bit tricky. The foreign students are at all different levels of Chinese mastery and conversations can have abrupt ends, lots of confusion, and many awkward silences.
But it’s worth it to hang out with people from different countries. I get to know more about the different countries and cultures. My friend Hangkey shared some Indonesian goodies with me, and the recent problems in Japan were more than a piece of news. (Luckily my friend’s families are all okay.)
I never expected coming to China would lead me to have friends from Japan, or Congo, or Denmark. And it might sound silly, basing a friendship on the fact that you are all foreigners. Friendship should be based on more than that, but when isolated in a small place it all comes together naturally and true friendships are made. I feel really lucky to have the opportunity to become friends with all the foreigners. After all, I now have about a dozen new homes spread all over the globe that I can visit!