A Student’s Perspective: Differences Between China and the United States

Media by Ruby Chen.

Greenville University enrolls students from many countries across the world, and many of these international students are from China. For these Chinese students, studying in America has really allowed them to see the differences between life in America and life in China. From dining habits to compliments, student loans, and public restrooms, Chinese students are noting the changes from life in China to life in the United States.

One very noticeable difference between life in China and life in the United States presents itself at the dinner table. Students from China and other Asian countries have realized that people in the United States eat with silverware, but at home, people eat with chopsticks. Also, in China, it is a kind of friendly behavior to help each other with food, but in the United States, it is considered abnormal and even rude to some people. Finally, in China, if a person enjoys what they ordered, they will offer some of it to the other people at their table. One international student, Yutong Nan, describes the difficulty she faced as she learned Americans’ eating norms, and she explains, “I initially came to the United States to study all aspects of life, but it is pretty difficult to adapt to Americans’ eating habits. When I first met some American friends, I was very nervous when we ate dinner together for the first time. I thought my food was delicious, so I offered some of it to my friend. He was confused, and even though I was embarrassed, we had a very nice conversation that cleared the air between us. I’m still learning, but that experience definitely taught me about the different eating habits in China and the United States.”

Media by BBS.SGCN.

In addition to the differences in dining habits, there are also differences in behavior habits. For example, in China, most people tend to show modesty when praised, and for some people, the common response to compliments is outright self-criticism. However, in the United States, friends often talk sweetly to each other. If a person is complimented, he or she will directly accept it. Even though they may have some internal resistance to actually believing the compliment, Americans will still thank the person that praised them because that is considered to be the polite behavior.

In terms of spending habits, Chinese people tend to like to save their money in order to cover future expensive events, including accidents or investment opportunities. However, in the United States, people are very aware of the money that they are spending, but they choose to spend it more freely in order to enjoy life in the present moment. The money philosophies of these cultures also apply to paying for education. When considering the concept of spending money, specifically on student loans, Nan says, “When I was young, adults always taught us to save money in case if we experienced any accidents that we would have to pay for. However, after some time in the United States, I found that students will often do what they want and consume their money reasonably. This philosophy also applies to paying for education and has led many American students to take on debt in order to pay for university. This kind of consumption concept has an advantage. By taking out loans, students reduce the financial burden that Chinese families would usually fund outright.”

Lastly, there are even differences between restrooms in the United States and China. In China, most public toilets are squat toilets, but in the United States, squat toilets are highly uncommon. Instead, Americans primarily use sitting stool toilets. Nan expands on this topic by saying, “What surprises me most is the United States’ public facilities, which are very convenient and comfortable. In the construction of these public toilets, personal hygiene products are typically provided. Plus, there is free toilet paper and even a disposable seat cover in a lot of restrooms. Because American restrooms are so accommodating, they give people a certain degree of humanization, even while going to the bathroom.”

Media by Trip Savvy.

After looking at all of these cultural differences, Chinese students have to make a lot of adjustments to their personal habits in the United States. Understandably, Chinese students may need some time to adapt to the living environment and habits of the United States.


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