Chinese Children Break down Cultural Barriers to Foreign Friendship
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Xiao Wu, now a student at Oxford University, recalls her life in Britain started off with "depression" six years ago in a renowned board school.
Fresh from China, the reality of the new country failed to meet her expectations.
"I was disappointed to find many of my British classmates just spent plenty of time on parties, instead of study," Xiao Wu says, a straight-A student in China, who struck her teachers and peers as "extraordinarily diligent."
It has taken her long to come to terms with the fact that British students just could be academically excellent as well without "excess hardworking" that was often held dear by their Chinese peers, she says.
"It seems that they could better balance school work and entertainment than most of us," she says.
But for younger Chinese, such culture shock is much less likely as they increasingly share a common international culture and make friends abroad.
Ding Kaiyan, 15, recalls making friends with Ayumi Saito during the latter's school excursion in China in August, 2008.
"We are both veteran players of Popcart (a popular racing game designed in South Korea), fans of NEWS (a Japanese boy band), and lovers of literature," she says. "Although I had not fully mastered Japanese, we hit it off at our first meeting."
One year later, Ding called on Ayumi Saito in Japan's Toyama Prefecture. Before her trip, Ding had glimpsed Japanese pop culture and customs through her Japanese teacher, Matsushita Hiroshi, and on the Internet.
Ding is one of dozens of students at the Northeast Yucai School, in the northeastern Liaoning Province, who have traveled to Japan to meet children their own age over the past six years.
"Globalization is a buzzword for scholars, but for children it just means how they live their lives," said Professor Shi Jinghuan, executive dean of the Institute of Education of the Tsinghua University.
Their favorite foods, clothes and pop stars and cartoon characters can come from any corner of the world, and many of them start to speak English at kindergarten, she says. "That may explain how they develop familiarity.
"The media, especially the Internet, have presented children all over the world with a colorful global village, and brought them closer," she says. "As long as you want to know, the information is at your fingertips."
Shi Junhao, 10, a fifth-grader at Beijing Fangcaodi International School, has just finished a six-week school trip to the UK with eight other students.
He made friends with Oliver after establishing that they shared a lot in common. "We were partners on the basketball court, and we both like US President Obama," he says.
In the past four years, about 400 students from Fangcaodi International School have traveled abroad and more than 3,000 others had contact with foreign peers, says Yang Yuan, a teacher at the school. "Our children have shown strong interest in knowing more about the rest of the world."
"For toddlers, smiles and eye contact are enough to initiate friendship," says Cindy Li, a teacher at the SMIC School and Kindergarten in Shanghai, which has 1,800 students from 22 countries and regions, and about 100 foreign teachers.
Respect for other cultures and smashing stereotypes are crucial steps for nurturing open minds in children, says Professor Shi Jinghuan.
Understanding, respect and tolerance can cement friendships between children from all ethnic groups, says Shi.
"Children should know that being different isn't bad."
(Xinhua News Agency November 17, 2009)