Meet me at the API
Let me introduce you to my new friend, Zack! A “Big Bang Theory” enthusiast with a love for breakfast foods, Zack traveled all the way from China to Auburn to study Public Administration. After studying at Auburn for about a year and a half more, Zack wants to return to his hometown of Wuhan to work in the public school system. Though I didn’t know much about where he grew up, Zack informed me that Wuhan is almost the biggest city in the middle of China. It’s most famous for the Huanghe Tower pictured on the right.
I had no idea what to expect before I met Zack. Of course there was initial trepidation of not asking the right questions, awkward silences or not knowing what to say in general. However, he put me at ease with his tranquil demeanor and warm smile. After getting our breakfast at API, we sat down and shared our Auburn experiences. Unlike me, who is four hours away from home, Zack is from halfway across the world and finds extreme differences between Auburn and Wuhan. For a more overarching look at Wuhan, check out this video!
Walk this way, talk this way
For starters, Auburn is a lot quieter than his hometown. In Wuhan, he said, there’s a grocery store about two minutes from his house. He has to drive to one in Auburn, which is a foreign concept to him. Completely understandable in my opinion; I would love to have a supermarket right outside my door! When we talked about the people of Auburn, he described them as being friendly and nice, a trait I think anyone who experiences this town would agree with. He said Chinese people are more to themselves and quiet.
After talking about our various majors and what we want to do with our lives, we started chatting about the
various differences between colleges here and in China and what we do on the weekends. I was surprised to hear that not much is different between college life in China and Auburn. Without elaborating, Zack said that there are subtle differences, but for the most part, they are extremely similar. The school schedule, the weekend activities and everything in between are much the same.
Silence of the Earles
One of my biggest downfalls is not being able to stomach silence. Somehow, in my head, silence means something’s wrong. This hindered my conversation with Zack because I droned on and on about seemingly nothing. As our conversation progressed, I realized I needed to allow silence. I wanted Zack to ask questions and I recognized that me talking was going to block that from happening because he needed time to translate my words, formulate his thoughts, and then translate his thoughts to words that I could understand! That’s a lot to do, not to mention me talking incessantly!
During breakfast, a long pause was followed by a question asked by Zack, “What can I do better to improve my English?” That one took me a long time to figure out. How do you tell someone what to do with a language you’ve known your whole life? Having studied abroad in Spain, I said the only thing I could think of, “Just keep practicing. The more you speak it, the better you get at it.” How generic was that?!
Hoping to ease his shyness a little bit, I asked, “What can I do to be better?” After thinking for a second, Zack explained to me that the most difficult thing for Chinese students coming to Auburn is that they want to talk to people and be immersed in the culture here, but they are afraid that Americans will laugh at them if they mess up the English language. That’s why they are shy and reserved, only staying in their specific friend groups.
That answer blew me away. I didn’t stop to think that maybe Auburn students need to increase their efforts to talk to these international students. I assured him that not I, nor anyone I know, would laugh at them for getting some parts of the language wrong. We understand the struggle of learning English. We as Americans still mess it up, and we’ve been using it our whole lives! I also told him that I think Americans have a tendency to oppose change, which enables them to not branch out due to being comfortable. However, sometimes stepping out of your comfort zone can lead to something great. That’s why I believe we should be more aware of and friendlier toward these international students. A blog done by Wanderlust Travel Magazine on “How to communicate with people who don’t understand your language” can be viewed here.
So long, farewell, Auf wiedersehen
Overall, it was great first meeting with Zack! In true American fashion, we snapped a selfie before we parted that solidified our new friendship. Though shy at first, both of us opened up and were able to share aspects of our life with each other. What was my favorite part about our first meeting? It was the fact that both of us laughed a lot. I love that we both found funny things to say to each other. Sometimes humor and laughter is the same in every language. Until next time, Zack!