In the United States, people are very open and expressive, and rapport is built through small talk and self-revelation. In China, people are more private and less open. Once you get to China and into your new teaching job, how can you begin to make friends among your co-workers and neighbors?
Americans generally talk more, move more, and use more facial expressions than others. Chinese people may be put off by what you think is friendliness, so watch how your co-workers relate to each other and try to follow suit. You’re on their turf now, so you need to be the one who adjusts.
Your Chinese co-workers and neighbors may be curious about life in America and happy to learn from you about that. They won’t ask directly, though, so find opportunities in daily life to insert little bits of Americana into your conversation. Be careful never to let it sound like you think the American way is “better,” but know that many people are curious about the differences.
Finally, there are universal topics that can begin to break the ice with any new person, and this is not different in China. If you are working on a staff with others, talking about work items and asking for advice on navigating the organizational culture is a great potential start. Off-duty, when you are doing the things you like to do, you will meet others with similar interests and can build on that common ground.
If you don’t speak Chinese, or don’t speak it well, know that many Chinese adults are anxious to improve their English skills and may even seek you out for conversational practice. This is a golden opportunity to get to know people under the guise of “practicing English.”
However you approach it, building a network of friends in your new Chinese setting is a big part of creating a positive adventure!
About the Author: Don Steiner
Don Steiner, MA, CPT, is a communication and leadership consultant with a specialty in intercultural communication issues. Don has worked with clients in the Americas, Europe, the Middle East and the Asia-Pacific region to help them reach each other with more meaningful and successful communication. He teaches workshops on presentation skills, sales skills, and talking to people around the world more effectively. He lives with his family in Tempe, Arizona.