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Study Abroad in China: Being a Laowai or like a Chinese? Wenhao Diao, Ph.D. University of Arizona Fourth International Conference on Intercultural Competence.

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Presentation on theme: "Study Abroad in China: Being a Laowai or like a Chinese? Wenhao Diao, Ph.D. University of Arizona Fourth International Conference on Intercultural Competence."— Presentation transcript:

1 Study Abroad in China: Being a Laowai or like a Chinese? Wenhao Diao, Ph.D. University of Arizona Fourth International Conference on Intercultural Competence 01/24/2014

2 Background (1) Race and Study Abroad in Applied linguistics Race in applied linguistics –Long tradition of studying the relationship between race and language use –Little research on race and L2 learning and use Race and study abroad –Local meanings of race (Talburt & Stewart, 1998) –Race among study abroad students in East Asia: Being a gaijin in Japan (Cook, 2006; Iino, 2006) Race and L2 learning in China –The case of laowai ( 老外 “Big Outsider”) –“Privileged marginalization” for White sojourners in China (Ilnyckyj, 2010, p. 26).

3 “When strolling in the city, I often heard this term used in the gossip around me. … It revealed a key organizing factor in Chinese society—…the distinction between inside and outside. In this instance, the distinction was between China, ‘inside country’ (guonei), and ‘outside countries (guowai or waiguo). This distinction is drawn so clearly that I could never become ‘Chinese’ but must learn how to be a ‘foreigner’ (waiguoren—literally an ‘outside- country person’) in Shanghai.” (Gamble, 2003, Preface, p. xviii). A typical list of characteristics of ‘Chineseness’ includes physical features—in the words of a popular Chinese song, Chinese people have ‘black hair, black eyes, and yellow skin’. Additionally, they have Chinese culture, that is, they speak Chinese language[s], eat Chinese food in a Chinese way, and have ‘five thousand years of Chinese history’…. [O]n the basis of spending several years in China, speaking Chinese, consuming local food, and knowledge of local customs and affairs I was sometimes described as ‘half Chinese’ or ‘like a Chinese person.’ (Gamble, 2003, p. 75)

4 中国话 The Chinese Language 各种颜色的皮肤 / 各种颜色的头发 / 嘴里念的说的开始流行中国话 / 多少年我们苦练英文发音和文法 / 这几年换他们卷着舌头学平上去 入的变化 Skins of all colors/ Hairs of all colors/ What is popularly spoken is the Chinese language/ So many years we have diligently practiced English pronunciation and grammar/ These years it’s their turn to roll the tongues and learn the change of tones 全世界都在讲中国话 / 我们说的话 / 让世界都认真听话 The entire world is speaking the Chinese language/ The language we speak/ makes the world listen seriously.

5 This Project Aimed to – –Explore identity and Mandarin learning processes among L2 learners overseas in urban China Site –A study abroad center located in Shanghai –Spring semester of 2012 Participants –20 volunteers –4 focal students and their Chinese roommates or host family members (Total = 8)

6 Research Questions How do they respond to their identity of being laowai? In what ways does the identity of being laowai affect their experience of learning and using Mandarin with their roommates/host family members while in China?

7 Data Collection Background surveys Pre and post Awareness of Mandarin Stance Marker (AMSM) questionnaires Surveys Formal interviews w/ focal students (pre/post, 30min) Informal interviews Interviews 48 hours of observations w/ notes Visits to the dorm, cafes, host family, classrooms, restaurants, soccer field, etc. Observations 33 hours of recorded interactions done by students Tutorials, chatting, dinner table conversations -> routine Recordings 7

8 Ellen Lived with a Chinese roommate, Helen. Previously studied in northern China for one semester. “I thought living in a dormitory would offer more freedom than a homestay as well as more opportunity to make friends.” (Background survey)

9 “ 每个人会告诉我我是一个外国人。我是老外。这也受伤我,因为我 感觉,我不是外国人。我知道我是。真的不是中国人,但是,如果你 听我说汉语,我忘了我是外国人。 ” Everyone will tell me I am a foreigner. I am laowai. This also is hurt [sic: hurts] me, because I feel I am not a foreigner. I know I am. I really am not Chinese. But, if you hear me speaking Chinese, I forget I am a foreigner. (Ellen, pre interview.) “I spend a lot of effort trying to understand the culture, and be very respectful of the culture and the language as well. And I get stuck in the bubble. You don’t hear everybody speaking Chinese to me. And as soon as I leave that bubble, everybody would try to speak English, and they’ll point out that I’m not Chinese, and, I just, I feel like, but I’m trying so hard. You know? I’ll never BE Chinese, no matter what I do.” (Ellen, pre interview)

10 In Ellen’s absence, Helen told me that Ellen was very 中国 人 (Chinese). She said that during their travel to Tongli over the break, she ordered 皮蛋瘦肉粥 (congee with pork and preserved eggs) for her and Ellen. She only realized later after that it had preserved eggs, but Ellen said it was fine and she had had it before. I asked Helen to tell me more why she thought Ellen was very Chinese. She said that Ellen also did not go out often to bars and clubs. (Field notes. 05/06/2012)preserved eggs We walked in the area that has many American- and European-style restaurants and bars. As we saw many White people on our way, Helen commented, " 这儿附近好多老外啊 ! " (So many laowai's around here!). Ellen said, " 我也是老外 " (I am also a laowai). […] Helen replied, " 我们已经不把你当老 外了 " (We no longer think of you as a laowai). (Field notes. 05/06/2012)


12 Ellen and Helen

13 Tuzi Lived with a Chinese roommate, Li. Lived in southern China for six months (teaching ESL). “I wanted to use Chinese outside of class.” (Background survey)

14 Tuzi told us that he had been called a 鬼佬 (gweilo, a derogatory Cantonese term meaning “ghost man”) in Shenzhen. We discussed different terms of calling White people in China, including gweilo and the Mandarin terms laowai and yang guizi (“foreign devil”). (Observation notes. 05/17/2012) Tuzi said he found racism against white people amusing. He also reminded us of his Jewish ethnicity. Li said that his hometown (Kaifeng, Henan) was the biggest Jewish community in China. He also told us about the physical and cultural traits of these Jewish settlers’ in comparison with other Han Chinese people in his hometown. (Observation notes. 05/17/2012) “I go alone. Oh that’s what I’m thinking about. I found myself alone a lot. … I’m more apt to just sit down next to somebody, or- even strike a conversation with my waiter. And they usually would be happy to talk to me, as opposed to go out with a group.” (Post interview)

15 Tuzi and Li

16 Yun Lived with a host family in Shanghai. Interacted mostly with the host mother. In a relationship with a Chinese American man whose family was from Shanghai. “I am interested in learning more about life in Shanghai, even learning a little Shanghainese. I also want to speak as much as possible. I also want to learn to cook Shanghainese food.” (Background survey)

17 We taught Yun how to eat xiaolongbao (“Shanghai soup dumplings”). Host mother said Yun was different from other waiguoren (“foreigners”) because she was so fond of Chinese food. (Field notes. 05/17/2012). Host mother told me that Yun also made wontons last week. The grandmother said those wontons were special because they were made by a laowai, not one of us Chinese ( 老外包的,不是我 们中国人包的 ). She said that Yun’s boyfriend was lucky because it was as if he was marrying “a foreign wife” and “a Chinese wife” at the same time ( 好像讨了一个外国媳妇,又好像讨了一个中 国媳妇 ). (Field notes. 05/17/2012.)


19 The China Tie: The Intersection of Gender and Race Host mother said that Yun had zhongguo yuan (“the China tie”) because she had a Chinese boyfriend. […] She also told me some previous accidents that happened to the American students at the study abroad center, such as excessive drinking, and female students smoking. The host mother then praised Yun, saying that she had a very good family education. They also talked about social manners in China and America, and in Yun’s case she was more Chinese than a Chinese girl ( 比中国女孩还要中国 ). (Field notes. 03/15/2012) Then host mother talked about Yun’s zhongguo yuan (“China tie”). Yun responded by comparing Italian and Chinese cultures because her mother was ethnically Italian. She said the two were quite similar. (Field notes. 04/12/2012)

20 But…

21 Mac Lived with a Chinese roommate, Fang. First-timer in China. “Because I was worried about culture shock if I lived w/ a host family.” (Background survey)

22 “And I had a long talk with him [advisor at his home institution] about whether to study in Beijing or Shanghai, and we talked about the pros and cons, and the differences between the two. We decided that Shanghai would be better cuz it’s just a more Western city, and uh, I’ve never really been, I ‘ve been to Germany before, and I’ve never really been anywhere that is too, culturally different than America, so he thought that Shanghai maybe an easier place to start, and then if I wanted to stay here for the summer and then be more adventurous then.” (Pre-interview, Mac.)

23 Fang complained to me about the essay assignment. He told me that for these foreign students (liúxuéshēng), it would suffice if their sentences were acceptable. The logic or coherence shouldn't matter. (Observation note, 03/14/12)

24 Mac and Fang

25 In What Language? # of PTH stc. Recording length MarchMay MarchMay Ellen231495 21’01’’35’20’’ Helen233304 Tuzi211603 24’55’’50’42’’ Li189369 Mac6934 20’51’’28’17’’ Fang64146 Yun471475 72’52’’86’39’’ Host mother12951155

26 Summary RQ 2: –Negotiating between being laowai and becoming like a Chinese (but never truly a Chinese) –Mutual negotiationsMutual negotiations RQ 1: –Being laowai means being seen as outsiders and exempted from local linguistic and discursive practices (i.e., speaking Mandarin).


28 Discussion “White is a color, too.” –Majority-minority relationship is always local. –The spread of English (Graddol, 2006), the unequal statuses of languages, and the association of language and race. Identity is performed and negotiated. –Being a Chinese may not be possible. But being “like a Chinese” is, or more precisely, “doing being like a Chinese” is. –Language is a part of the negotiation process. –It not only involves the students, but also the people they interact with.

29 Thank You! Questions? Comments? Please contact

30 Extras

31 Future Research Being non-Chinese Asian American: – 在上海,别人会说,你看起来中国人,为什么你不会说中文 ?! … 昨天我 在七普,我自己去一个店,我没问一个问题,所以他们不知道我是韩国 人。我看一个衬衫。她说很快。要是我没说 “ 什么? ” ,她觉得我听得懂。 (Pre interview, 2010). In Shanghai, other people would say, you look Chinese. Why don’t you speak Chinese?. …Yesterday when I was at the Cheap Market, I went to a store by myself. I didn’t ask any questions, so they didn’t know that I am Korean. I saw a shirt. She spoke very fast. If I hadn’t said “what?,” she would think I understood. – 因为我和美国人一起住。所以我告诉他们, ah ,我们是美国人。可是他 们平常问我,可是你看起来不,一个美国人。 (Pre, 2010.) Because I stay with Americans, so I told them, ah, we are Americans. But they normally would ask me, but you look not like, an American. – 哦我看起来像一个中国人,可是我开我的嘴的时候,他们知道。 … 只是 我在地铁站的时候,在一个公共地方的时候,我常常听到别的 - like 陌生 人说 “ 哦,韩国人,中国人? ”like 他们说我。可是 - 所以我告诉他 “ 我是韩 国人 ” 。 (Post interview, 2010.) Oh I look like a Chinese person. But when I open my mouth, they know. … Only when I am at a subway station, a public place, I often hear other- like strangers, say, “Oh, Korean? Chinese?” Like they were talking about me. But- so I tell him, “I am Korean.”


33 Being African American in China – 在这儿,很多人来 touch 我的头发,因为他们觉得很有意思。可是 没关系,我是 - 我很友好。所以没关系啊。还有,他们很喜欢来做 照片,跟我做照片,因为他们从,从来没看过一个黑人。 (Pre interview, 2010) Here a lot of people come to touch my hair, because they think it’s interesting. But it’s okay. I am- I am very friendly. So it’s okay. And, they like to make pictures, make pictures with me. Because they ne- never have seen a black person. – 他们觉得很奇怪,还有,他们很兴奋,觉得黑人可以说中文。他 们常常告诉我,你的中文很好。 (Post interview, 2010) They think it’s very strange. And, they are very excited, thinking that black people can speak Chinese. They often tell me, your Chinese is very good. – 他们就觉得我是非洲人。 … 我就告诉他们,我是美国人。 … 因为 有很多中国人就觉得,有很多问题问我。因为我是黑人,还有我, 美国人。所以我就回答他们的问题。我觉得没关系,因为我要教 他们怎么看别的人。 (Post interview, 2010) They think I was from Africa…. I tell them, I am American. … Because, many Chinese people just feel, they have a lot of questions to ask me. Because I am black, and I, American. So I just answer their questions. I think it doesn’t matter, because I want to teach them how to view other people.

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