The Truth About Being a Chinese International Student


Daniel Gao

According to the 2018–2019 UCSB Campus Profile, within the international student population of the whole campus, 73 percent of international students have come from mainland China. However, a number of students do not completely understand Chinese international students or even have a sense of who they actually are.

In the past two years, I have heard many ways that others tend to use to describe us. “They are just a bunch of rich kids trying to get an American diploma” and “They got money, why do they care about school?” And last quarter, I even heard a group of people saying, “They are like giant babies.” Stereotypes and biases are like ropes that tie up all Chinese students.

Nevertheless, being a Chinese international student myself, I would like others to hear our side of the story. Let me describe what it is like to be an international student who is studying abroad. In WeChat (a Chinese social media platform), there is a popular network quote: “The color of the outside is the darkest of the day; it feels like all the lights no longer excite. However, in this dark, we are still awake.” This expresses daily life for most of us.

Unlike what others say about us, we come to the United States to study because we have a dream. We try our best to work hard because we know that we need to put in more effort than our American counterparts. We know that our English is not perfect. Thus, we need to try even harder than others. Back home, before studying abroad, after 12 (a.m.) meant saying good night to family and friends. Now, while we are here, 12 is nothing but a number. We always stay awake until two or three in the morning, studying and trying to make ourselves better.

We care about many things. We don’t like to share because we are afraid that our parents would hear everything that we have been through and would start worrying about us. Our home is over 6,000 miles away. Every time we talk with our parents through videos calls or just a phone call, we want to show our best to them. We want them to know that they have nothing to worry about.

We also care about the future. Studying abroad isn’t cheap. We hope every cent that we spend here in the U.S. is worth it. People sometimes might only see things on the outside, like the way we dress; however, they have never seen the tears and the sweat and the loneliness that we carry.

Most international students would love to make friends, and we hope we can build bonds with others. We like to talk about ourselves and share our traditional cultures with others. We also like to eat (maybe not every food here but we would love to try all of them). We also sing and dance. Perhaps we are hindered by our Chinese accents, but nonetheless, music allows us all to have fun together.

We are just like others. There is nothing that can separate students who are all here to learn. More importantly, we should not have invisible walls between us that keep us apart; instead, let’s try to know each other a little better. After that, we will see each other in a new light.

We are in UC Santa Barbara. We have brilliant sunshine, a boundless ocean, and fascinating beaches. So let’s put aside the judgment and prejudice and enjoy our time together.


  1. Thank you for sharing your insights on being an international student from mainland China. I think the transition to a university can be hard for anyone but it is understandably even more challenging when one is coming from such a different culture and language.
    In reading your essay, several thoughts came to my mind that might help you with your transition here. The first suggestion is that you try to regularly get enough rest. Although a few people seem to function well on little sleep, most adults need around 8 hours a night of sleep to be mentally sharp and to have a sense of emotion and physical well being. Without enough sleep, it can be much harder to focus on tasks and it is more common to feel melancholy.
    Secondly, I hope that you consider participating in at least one of the clubs offered at UCSB. Have you tried joining a fitness/athletic club or tried joining a club that does community outreach to help the environment or groups in need? When I studied abroad, I found that I became much happier and made new friends (outside of my own cultural group) once I got involved in clubs that weren’t connected to my major and international status. I actually began to feel more at home and content.
    Third, I have found that most cultures tend to stereotype and even have some prejudices about other cultures. Americans of course experience this when they study abroad and even Americans from one part of the U.S. may find themselves stereotyped by Americans from another area of the U.S.. Similarly, you are probably aware that Chinese from one part of China have stereotypes about Chinese from another part of the country. It is easy to feel sensitive about such stereotypes but once people get to know you as an individual and see your willingness to embrace the larger community, the stereotypes can disappear. Your effort to share your thoughts to the broader community in your essay is a great start!

  2. Just like with foreigners who live and work in your country, it is unfortunate to be on the outside looking in on everyone else, especially when you look, dress, speak and act differently. As foreigners in the United States, Chinese Mainlanders face a mountain of difficulties. You will be treated as outsiders but it is important for you to experience this treatment, because you will learn, change and grow as a result of being on the outside looking inside. Living in the United States as foreigners will also help you become acquainted with failure, but it is important for you to experience this feeling every now and then since you will learn, change and grow.

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