People need to belong

Belonging is a human instinct. We all try to make friends with others, somehow. But as many people have realised, this is not so easy.

A typical classroom in China

I studied in China for 16 years. I was quite confident to say I am a popular person. It’s always like, people recognised me at school, but I had no idea who they were. I guess I have some soft of “face-blindness” problems. Normally it’s very hard for me to remember a person’s face than his/her name. If I see a person in the day, then I cannot recall that person’s face at night. I know it’s strange, but it’s never been that big of a problem to me since fortunately, people always seem to recognise or remember me.

In China the education system is very different from that of Australia / US. Depending on the schools, we normally have big class of around 50–60 people. Everyone has classes in the same classroom, except for PE. So after a while, we get to know everyone in the class. The class is like a big family to us. I know who each person is, and I may have stronger connection to some individuals. But generally, everyone knows each other and are friends.

A typical lecture hall in my home university, the University of New South Wales (UNSW)
A typical tutorial room in UNSW

Unlike in Australia, which uses a lecture/tutorial education system, not everyone in the tutorial (of course the same to lecture) knows each other. (A lecture hall can typically fill 200~400 people in. ) A tutorial room normally has 20~40 people. We gather together for one hour each week to discuss the course in a fixed tutorial room, then we leave. Unless there is an assignment of discussion or group project, students seem not to talk to each other that much. Similarly in US, people don’t really talk to each other unless they have to. Until now, I still don’t know the person who has been sitting right in front of me or behind me in all my classes.

During my first 3 high school years in Australia , I felt lonely. My parents were not there. Those Australian students in my year tended to talk about different topics , like makeup and some topics that seem to be really naive in my eyes. I tried to talk to them, but I found that they didn’t wanna make friends with me. So I basically only talk to the Chinese students in my year.It took me more than four years in Australia to really build relationships with many people. This all happened after I went to university. I joined a Chinese musician society where everyone was like a family. My friends are still, Chinese students who live overseas. You ask : “Why don’t you make friends with local people or ABC (Australian-born-Chinese)?” The answer is, “It’s not so easy to do so.”

I have been frustrated about this issue for many years. I seem not to be able to really make friends with different races. Ok now I am not talking about those “Hi-Bye” friends. It just seems that people have different cultural backgrounds cannot really become “real friends”. Take my exchange journey as an example. I was wishing that I would make a lot of friends. But when I was in the orientation day, no one really came up and talked to me. I talked to some exchange students, but the same thing happened again, due to lack of common culture, there was not much to talk about except the following questions:

Where are you from? What do you study? Have to been to Sydney, Australia?

Except for talking about the home countries, there really isn’t that much to talk about. What about the local American people? Well, they don’t seem to like us in particular. Maybe because they have seen too many Asian people? I don’t know. I have to say it is really silly that many many Chinese people living China still think that foreigners love Chinese people and Chinese culture and such. No, not everyone is like that. In China, if we see foreigners, everyone must be really passionate and tells him/her the places they should visit and introduce them to China. But apparently, not the same thing will happen in western countries. People see Chinese people and then be like, “Ok so what?” and walk past. Ha.

Is this because of the population? Or is it because of power? China isn’t strong enough, compared to many western countries, frankly. It can be seen that English is still the dominant “world language” in the globe. Why isn’t this “world language” Chinese? Because of POWER.

I seriously don’t think this is my personal issue. I have asked my International Assistant (IA, a senior student mentor BC allocates to junior students) if she has white friends. She told me most of her friends were American-born-Chinese, probably because they share common heritage? The same thing happened to my cousin sister who is a Chinese-Australian. Most of her close friends are ABC. Ok, even those who were born in America/Australia cannot make friends with local American/Australian, how can you expect me, a Chinese-born-Chinese to make friends with native American/Australian? Further, ABCs seem not to favour Chinese people. They are so eager to call themselves “Australian”, like my cousin sister. Normally it makes Chinese people feel really warm to see similar faces in Australia, but the majority of ABC don’t wanna talk to Chinese people in Chinese. Partly because their Chinese isn’t that good, but most importantly, they don’t see themselves as Chinese, no, yeah of course you people are Aussie.

Now I am not saying I have no responsibility or I should blame this. But it is just so hard to make friends with people who come from a different background. They don’t get many of the connotation embedded in the speech. This is a sociology issue. I went to New York with an exchange student from London who majors in linguistic. She told me when people talk to others, he/she will tend to talk in his/her partner’s accent or way of speaking, because he/she wants to belong to the partner. And that is so true to me. People just want to belong to others, this is even reflected in the way we speak.

I am still thinking about this problem. People don’t publicly talk about this but they know. Deep inside, they know it. But will I ever find a solution to overcome this barrier?