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  • Shona McCarthy

Chinese Work Experiences

Updated: Dec 23, 2019


(This is a piece I wrote when I was part the way through my course.) I have had experiences working with Chinese students in the past in multiple situations. I've enjoyed working with them, and I have observed interesting things.

In one class, I worked with Chinese students in a group developing a presentation and essay. I found they were very chatty and gregarious among themselves in Mandarin, even rather sassy. Then when they spoke to me they became quiet. When they wanted to communicate with me, the ones with the best command of English spoke to me while the others whispered to them. This was surprising to me, but I respected the way they were able to work together so cohesively and naturally. Adapting to this way of doing things was important for my participation. Sometimes, when I work in groups, I find I can be a little too assertive or dominating. If no one steps up as a leader, I tend to start acting as one, not because I enjoy commanding others, but rather because I'm not sure how a team can work together without someone to make sure everyone is on the same page. However, I have made great efforts not to overstep my bounds.

In the context of working with these Chinese students, I wanted to stop myself and encourage them to express themselves more, so I attempted to be extremely deferential. To my surprise, the more submissive I was in my behaviour, the more frustrated they seemed to become with me. I had imagined they would relish control, but in being so obsequious I suspect I gave them the false impression that I wasn't trying. Or it may be that they were expecting me, as a Westernized person, to help them meet the demands of a Westernized education system.

They would show me something and say, "We need to come up with..." and since they were all looking at me I "hmmed" and "haaed" on the matter, attempting to produce an answer on the spot. They laughed and told me that I could think about it. I'm still unsure of what they expected of me and I don't know how to broach the topic. Though I was left with the distinct impression, based on their facial expressions, that I had fallen in their estimation.

An approach I found more helpful was to make suggestions, to do research that supported the ideas they came up with and to pull as much weight as I could in terms of practical work. I also did heavy edits for them on our essay and made sure we were meeting the set standards for the project. Then they seemed to be happier with me and we exchanged small food gifts. I have been able to retain one of them as a good friend who I have worked with on a subsequent project. All in all, it was a great success. Our essay was good enough that our lecturer wanted to use it as an example for future classes. I think the lesson I learned was that intercultural teamwork takes more than a willingness to do the job. It can help to experiment with different approaches to see what works best when working with others, though this can be taxing if you are intensely shy in the first place.

(Footage from Giphy)




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