Breaking cultural stereotypes while making friends in exotic places. My recent trip to Beijing has opened my eyes as an American and as I now focus on finishing my degree in Educational Consulting, I hope to share my experiences and knowledge with others so they too can make a difference in the lives of others and their community.
Saturday, September 8, 2018
What the Heck Is An International Friend?
What is an international friend? I could give you the universal definition or a definition other people use, but then the meaning won’t be the same.
International friends are exactly like what the word is saying—a “friend” who is from another country. Yet, I am going to go a step further and explain what an international friend truly is.
I made so many friends while I was in China. Now I have a phone book full of email addresses, WeChat accounts, phone numbers, and mailing addresses. I stay in contact with nearly all my friends through the app called WeChat.
Since many social media websites like Facebook and Google Hangouts are blocked in China, I only had one way to communicate with my friends and family back home and with my host parents. WeChat is an app that has everything. I can call, text, video chat, voice chat, pay my bills, book a taxi, check the bus times, purchase food, and so much more.
My first friend I made in China was someone who noticed that I lived near them on WeChat. WeChat determines how close a person is to another when under the Discovery tab. I learned that I wasn’t alone in the gated community and I quickly made more friends who were friends of friends.
Friendship Starts With Knowing The Right Person
Not all friendships start this way, but when I was in China this was one of the only ways I increased the number of people I knew and potential friends I made.
It helped that I was living with a host family that is well known and is liked in and around the community. My host dad is an architect and my host mom is an editor for Elle magazine in Beijing. These are high paying jobs and well-respected jobs in China. Since I was living with my host family, I made friends of my host parents without evening trying. Yet I feel I was liked a lot more than usual because I was the odd-one-out—the only Caucasian.
Meeting Like-Minded People
I was lucky enough to meet several other private tutors living in Beijing. I felt part of a growing community of professionals who left their homes for another to try to help Chinese students with English.
Dora’s Spanish teacher, Ana, is an exception. Ana came to the house every Tuesday and taught Dora Spanish for about two hours and then stayed for supper with the family. In the short time, I was there, I was able to learn many things about Ana that resembled much of what I am like and why I was in Beijing.
Because of this, Ana and I became friends quickly. She was the one who convinced me to get out and explore Beijing. I didn’t leave my country to travel to China and sit inside an apartment for a month. Ana helped me become more comfortable in my surroundings and explained how she got around without knowing Chinese.
Making Friends With Children
This was the part of my trip I loved the most. I was able to volunteer at my host sister’s International Elementary School. Dora also picked me to be the one she brought to school for Children’s Day (she picked me instead of her mom).
Quickly, I became the favorite adult in the school and every child would greet me in the morning and say goodbye at the end of the day. Though their English-speaking skills were a bit sketchy at times, I was able to understand what was being said without much trouble and the kids took it in stride and laughed anytime I butchered my pronunciation of Chinese words. We worked together to learn.
My Host Family
When I was preparing for my trip to go to Beijing, China, I didn’t have a clue on what to expect from a host family as I didn’t even know who my host family was until about two months before I arrived.
Host mom and host dad with friends
The short video conference through WeChat did little to help me figure out what to expect. I had nothing to worry about though as my host parents were the nicest people I’ve ever met. It helped that my host parents had been hosting for years and didn’t have many expectations for the people they hosted. They wanted, whoever came through the door, to be as authentic as possible and not change who they were when they arrived.
My host parents loved learning about my life here in the United States and what my family was like. They wanted to know stereotypes I had or had heard of and what I was interested in. The first thing I was asked was what I liked to eat and after I said “chicken”, chicken became the staple of most meals or was found on the side.
I spent most of my time with my host sister, Dora. Before I had met Dora, I had little to no experience working with five-year-old children nor did I have any interest in working with children that young. My experience was with late elementary and middle school and older students. My entire purpose was to work only in academics, but my trip changed me.
Much of my “Tutoring” was playing games with Dora and taking long walks around the neighborhood. I learned more about Dora on these walks than I did when she was working on school work. I was an English tutor and was only allowed to tutor conversational English. Yet I found myself assisting Dora with mathematics in the last week of my trip. I felt like I was back home. Apparently, no matter where I go, children always need some form of assistance in mathematics.
Outside of academics, Dora and I became the best of friends. Before I even walked through the door on my first day in Beijing, Dora called me her “sister” and sometimes told others I was her “best friend” or “second mother”. Even though we are thousands of miles apart, Dora and I continue to be the best of friends and sharing our stories through WeChat.
Language Exchange Buddies
On my trip, I asked for a language guide because my biggest struggle was understanding how to communicate with other Chinese people without knowing the language. Overnight, I was paired with a college student whose English name is Ethan. Ethan became my language buddy and helped me several times throughout my stay at restaurants, tourist attractions, and on the street.
It was a learning experience for both of us as Ethan’s English skills weren’t perfect and my pronunciation of Chinese was horrible. We worked together to make the most out of each moment and laughed off any confusion that arose.
Ethan and I stay in contact as he’s now a college student in the United States. He just arrived about a week ago and is now going to college in Washington D.C. His degree is in accounting. This made our conversations easy when we first met as my father is an accountant and own an accounting office in the Fox Valley.
Kaylee, another World Explorer who was over in Beijing when I was, and I are planning on traveling to Washington D.C. to meet with Ethan around the holidays, probably around Christmas time. I can never thank Ethan enough for taking his time to help me when I was in his country. I feel like I should do the same.
After returning home, I felt a bit lost. I was back in the country surrounded by corn fields instead of high-rises and mountains of concrete. I quickly found a website that was free to connect with people from around the world. I became acquaintances with a Chinese college student who was willing to help me with my pronunciation if I would help him with his English.
My pen pal’s English name is Steven and he’s been a great help. I do have to warn people though about becoming pen pals with Chinese men. Some, not all, are looking for more than a language buddy or pen pal; some are looking for romance. If this isn’t for you, you may want to stay away or to prepare yourself for these situations. Personally, I find them cute and my chances of meeting some of these people are nearly non-existent.
Steven has become a bit more than a pen pal and more of a friend in the last month. It’s nice to know that I have someone who knows the Chinese language and is willing to practice with me, even as horrible as I am at pronunciation.
There are many ways to make new friendships and make international friends. I have made life-long friendships with people my host family are friends with, my host family and (especially) my host sister, pen pals, language buddies, and with other academic tutors living in China. There is no requirement that states that someone needs to leave their country to make international friends. How will you make international friends?