Despite the impact of globalisation and the Belt and Road, the Hispanic population remains little compared to people from the English speaking world or other Asian countries. However, this does not impede them from exploring this unknown oriental nation.
In recent years, the connection between China and the Hispanic world has become more and more frequent and multidimensional. The Confucius Institute has been introduced to many Latin American countries and Spain, with thousands of students going to study in China via the government-sponsored scholarship every year. Spanish is also becoming one of the most popular second foreign languages to learn.
The Prisma contacted several current exchange students at the Shanghai International Studies University (SISU), one of the most elite foreign language institutes in the world. They shared their experience in this foreign country with us.
Since many of them either do not speak Mandarin at all or are just starting to learn the language, they prefer to use English in daily life. Milena, a junior from Costa Rica, expressed: “Besides the people who study in SISU, it is very difficult to meet a Chinese person who speaks very good English… and for Spanish, it is impossible”.
Although there is no language barrier between Chinese students and international students in the university, they still tend to stick within their own community.
A Colombian student Janier admitted that the cultural difference is huge: “Chinese people are very timid which makes it hard to socialise with them… people are much more passionate in my country”.
Milena as well as Carol, an active Chinese learner from Barcelona, claims that cultural difference does not stop them from mingling with the locals, yet in reality, they barely make an acquaintance with them. Like Janier, most of their friends are Spanish speaking.
Apart from some events organised by the embassy, none of these students claim to have joined any kind of Hispanic organisation despite there being a decent number of them living and studying together.
Speaking of their favourite part about Shanghai, Carol adores the modernity of this metropolitan and is amazed by the skyscrapers, Milena appreciates the liberal environment and Janier enjoys exploring museums, parks and restaurants.
Even though their experiences in China have been mostly positive, Milena once was offended in Harbin, the capital and the largest city of Heilongjiang province: “a man said go back to your country in Chinese”. “We discovered that the driver (did not understand us)” she showed her understanding: “there were people on the bus and it was very late at night”.
As a Chinese, I believe this sort of accidental xenophobia and verbal attack is mainly an outcome of an unwary population’s ignorance. This is caused by the absence of political correctness and the lack of understanding in racial tension.
China has made a miraculous achievement in economic growth and living standards, yet it has a long way to go in advancing cultural and ideological progress to become more inclusive for those expatriates.