Study Abroad in China - CERCLL

Study Abroad in China:
Being a Laowai or like a Chinese?
Wenhao Diao, Ph.D.
University of Arizona
Fourth International Conference on Intercultural Competence
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).
• “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 ‘outsidecountry 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)
The Chinese Language
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
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)
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
Data Collection
• Background surveys
• Pre and post Awareness of Mandarin Stance Marker
(AMSM) questionnaires
• Formal interviews w/ focal students (pre/post, 30min)
• Informal interviews
• 48 hours of observations w/ notes
• Visits to the dorm, cafes, host family, classrooms,
restaurants, soccer field, etc.
• 33 hours of recorded interactions done by students
• Tutorials, chatting, dinner table conversations -> routine
• 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)
• “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
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
• 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.
• 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.
Ellen and Helen
• 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)
• 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.
• 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)
Tuzi and Li
• 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)
• 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.)
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.
• 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)
• 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)
• “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.)
• 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)
Mac and Fang
In What Language?
# of PTH stc.
Recording length
Host mother
• RQ 2:
– Negotiating between being laowai and
becoming like a Chinese (but never truly a
– Mutual negotiations
• RQ 1:
– Being laowai means being seen as outsiders
and exempted from local linguistic and
discursive practices (i.e., speaking Mandarin).
• “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.
Thank You!
• Questions? Comments?
• Please contact
[email protected]
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
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.”
• 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
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
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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