Around the world in eight issues: China-United States

Xue Yan is a junior philosophy major from Chuangchun, in Jilin, China.

What were you expecting before you came to the US?

I think I was expecting it to be very open, friendly and open to different backgrounds and perspectives. The media is a big influence on our perceptions of the US, and these are some of the things that are portrayed a lot. We also had exchange teachers from the US and Australia, and we got some of our expectations from them as well.

What was it like when you did come to the US?

People do smile a lot more here! People are openly friendly almost all the time, and very polite. People don’t hold doors for you in China, but it is really common in the US. Also people say “thank you” all the time. Sometimes people are too friendly, though, which can make me uncomfortable.

I was also really surprised how into sports people are in America.

Is there anything specific to the Midwest that you weren’t expecting?

People are really casual. In New York, people dressing nicely is more common, but here it’s normal just to wear jeans and a t-shirt and sneakers; no one thinks it’s odd. In China, people don’t always dress up, but they do wear something nice-looking, like a nice dress or a nice shirt. When I do that here, people definitely ask me, “So, what’s happening today, why are you dressed up?”

Are there any big differences between China and the US?

One big difference is that in China, people really like travelling to other states or countries and will try to travel often. Americans are generally more comfortable staying in the place they are most familiar with, which makes me surprised that they are so interested in camping.


I think there are more similarities between big cities. Like New York; New York is just an English-speaking China: it’s dirty, it’s crowded, it’s busy, people are dressed up, people are from everywhere in the world, everywhere in the US, the food is terrible and expensive and the drivers are very rude and don’t follow traffic rules.


Lena Bixby is a junior geology and Chinese language major from Portland, Ore.

What were you expecting before you went to China?

I was expecting a more “eastern” feel, maybe more like Japan is. I wasn’t expecting it to feel so modern or western. That was surprising, especially the public transit. I was also expecting to see a lot of bikes, because we always see pictures of lots of bikes.

I think I always had a pretty good idea of what the culture would be like, as I was enrolled in a Mandarin immersion program from when I was little. I had lots of contact with Chinese teachers and families and knew a lot of culture from them.

What was it like when you did go to China?

For one thing, I didn’t expect people to be nearly as interested in me and who I was as a person.

Although I expected some of the “strange food” like chicken feet, I didn’t expect there to be so many guts and innards. Also they really didn’t have good desserts or baked goods. They also didn’t have much chocolate! Dessert was usually fruit, and they didn’t really consider fruit food, and so you would be given fruit after a meal even though you said you were full and couldn’t eat more.

I was told to leave a bit of food on my plate when I was done eating, but I was actually asked why I did that when I was in China. I guess they are more interested in not wasting good food now.

What do you think is one of the big differences between China and the US?

The expectations of children are a big difference. Especially because it’s they’re only kid, they have all of their parents’ hopes and dreams laid on them.

In the trips I’ve had to China, I’ve had a lot of host families, and in almost all of them I would never see the dad. Sometimes they’d come home, sometimes they wouldn’t. Sometimes they would eat at home or sometimes they wouldn’t return, so that was a somewhat strange difference.


Materialism is certainly a thing in China, just as it is in the US. It’s sort of a social status thing in China, but they have all of the same shops, like H&M and Forever 21. There’s also a craze for US fast-food in China.