This post is part of a series featuring conversations with MU international students. They talk about life and culture in Missouri and at MU, as well as their experiences as international students and perceptions of American culture inside and outside the classroom.
Si “Cici” Chen
Year at MU: Freshman
Majors: Economics and journalism
Home country: China
What has been your experience with the international community here at Columbia?
A lot like American LIFE and also I participate in the Language Partners Program in the Women’s Center. I made a lot of friends at orientation week like German, Japanese, Korean and students from Bermuda.
What was orientation like for you?
Yeah, I made a lot of friends there. We had a picnic on the third day and this spring semester I volunteered during orientation week. I participated in helping with the potluck we have during that week and I made a lot of friends there.
Did you have fun at the potluck?
Yeah, we did contra dancing which was a lot of fun. I was also a small group leader at orientation for students and made friends from Malaysia, Australia and France. One of my friends I have over a lot to eat Chinese food. I cooked for her during spring break. (laughs) It was a lot of fun!
Why did you volunteer for orientation?
You know the feeling of being a freshman? I still have that feeling, you know, the feeling of being a stranger to a new environment is still there so I can understand the freshmen’s fear and worry about coming here. I just want to help them and because I am also a freshman I can understand more what they need. On the other hand, I am already familiar with here, like how can you get a cell phone, classes, dorms, etc., and also I like to make friends. (laughs) Also, it is important to put things on your résumé! (both laugh) Another thing I have really enjoyed is that I am going to be a community adviser in Res Life next year in one of the dorms.
Congratulations! That’s fantastic!
I know it’s really awesome. You know I found that I should have more experiences here. I had a lot of experiences in China but that’s past. I think doing things here is more important. The first semester I was really busy with language and a lot of basic things in life. There was not a lot of time to participate in activities. Second semester I participated in a lot of volunteer and other activities. (laughs) That’s why I wanted to volunteer during orientation week.
That’s great! So I know you talked about the reason you volunteered is partially because of your experiences adjusting here. Were there any striking cultural differences between the U.S. and your home country?
Personally, I think you should love the place you are going to. I think this is important. There are definitely a lot differences. The attitude to the differences should be open and not be resistant. You should love it and try to learn while here. There are some of my Chinese friends who do homework and always have lunch and dinner with Chinese friends and speak Chinese. I think it is good to be comfortable and have friends from our home country, but it makes it more difficult to fit into American culture. There are a lot of differences here. The first day I came here in the airport, everyone is a stranger to me but they all smile when you make eye contact. It is really normal here. We never smile to a stranger in our country. (laughs) People here are very open. I see a lot of American girls meeting and yelling, “Oh my gosh!!! It’s you! It’s so nice to see you again!” They are very excited. In China we would say, “Oh, it’s you. How are you?” The characteristics are very different. The Chinese are more shy. People in China never hug each other, but Americans do a lot. When you meet someone, you hug each other when you say “hi” and “goodbye.” In China, I am really extroverted and talkative, but here, even without the language challenges, I think I’m more introverted in America. An example is I had an introduction to leadership class and we took a personality test. We shared our test with a group to talk about the results. My result was extroverted and one of the American girl’s result was introverted and she just talked so much about how it fit her… When I talked I said, “I think the results are correct. I am extroverted.” (laughs) We all think our results are correct but the real behavior is I am more introverted here. Also, the food is different. (laughs) I miss it so much! The lifestyle here is different. Americans like parties, they are party animals. You know, during the weekend in the evening I always can hear the parties at 2 or 3 a.m. out of the hallways. I think American students study very hard when they need to study, but play hard too. I think it is a good lifestyle.
Is socializing different here than in China?
Yeah, socializing is different because the culture of China is more shy it is more difficult to fit into a new environment, but I try really, really hard to fit in here. (laughs) If your oral speaking is not very good you wonder if others will be patient to hear what you say. Most here are very nice and willing to listen and give me help. Americans are just really friendly.
Was that different from what you expected before coming here?
Yeah, you know, in your own country you find a lot of disadvantages around you, always thinking about it. Then you may have high expectations for other countries, like you think America is perfect; but when I came here I found that I am really a classic Chinese. (laughs) I love the character of Chinese people. Before I came here I thought that the Chinese were too shy and maybe not as friendly as America. When I came here, I found that it is just different. I gained more understanding about my own culture and also more understanding of American culture. You know, before I came here I realized my understanding of America was mostly from TV and movies. I watched “Gossip Girl” (laughs) and imagined all the girls were very gorgeous and they all have parties every day. You know, there are parties in every episode.
Yeah, I’ve seen Gossip Girl! (both laugh)
After I came here, I realized it’s not true! (laughs) I just have a better understanding of the culture here.
That’s great to hear. It sounds like you are very insightful about the differences between here and your home country. I think it’s great that it has been able to help you appreciate both a little more.
Yeah, I realize it is also different between the international students here. My roommate is Japanese and, you know, because of history issues there is a lot of conflict between our countries. Even at the present there are conflicts. After interacting with my roommate and other Japanese friends I have found that the Japanese have a lot of merit. They are very polite and friendly. I found that this conflict is a thing between governments, not necessarily us. I found that I have learned a lot about other cultures also.
What is your favorite place to hang out in Columbia?
Transportation here is really inconvenient if you don’t have a car here. There are not a lot of routes on the bus line and the buses don’t come very often. You feel really lucky when you catch a bus! (laughs) Public transportation is really convenient in China. You can take a bus everywhere.
Yeah, public transportation is not very convenient in Columbia.
It is very different! But I do go to restaurants downtown.
What’s your favorite restaurant?
(laughs) It’s a Chinese restaurant! (both laugh) I also love going over to my American family’s house here. They are very nice people. I often hang out with them and sometimes I live in their home, like during the winter break, for four or five days. I get to learn a lot of American traditions like building a gingerbread house. I love hanging out with them.
If you could have known one thing before moving here, what would it be?
The first thought in my mind was eat more Chinese food! (both laugh) I want to give a thoughtful answer, though. One thing is just don’t hold too many ideas about the place you will go. If you focus on the beautiful things you will ignore the challenges you will face here. Just before I came here, I imagined it being really awesome and I ignored the language challenges. Just don’t hold too many ideals about it and hold a brave heart to face the challenge. Yeah, just be realistic and cherish the time you spend with your family before leaving.
What do you like to do for fun here?
For fun, I like sports, like swimming. The Rec center here is really great. I also go to the Mizzou After Dark events on Friday. I talk with friends and do activities like tie-dyeing shirts. One of my friends from the American LIFE program is a music major and because I learned piano for eight or nine years in China. There is no piano here so I haven’t played in six or seven months until I met her. She invited me to the practice room where we share the pieces and play the piano together. It’s really cool and fun to play too! We talk about music and go to concerts. To me, except studying, everything is new and fun. Like talking to you, is new and fun! (both laugh) Talking to Americans and other international students is a lot of fun.
Tell me a phrase in your native language and what it means.
加油 (jia you). This means “cheer up” or “come on” in English. The original meaning is “add more fuel, oil or gas in the car.” The meaning is just be more energy, more active, more optimistic. You can compare it to if you put more gas in the car, it will make it go further. Now, people use it to encourage other people.