Study Abroad Etiquette: China

As statistics have shown, the number of students studying abroad has tripled in the last few decades and about 10 percent of all U.S. undergraduate students will study abroad by the time they graduate. In this blog series, we’ll provide some simple etiquette tips for popular study abroad destinations.

Map of china

Along with SpainItaly, the United Kingdom and France, China was listed as one of the top study abroad destinations for Americans. No matter where in China your students are headed, share the following tips to help them embrace the local culture and avoid common etiquette mistakes.

Greetings and Gestures
Respect and honor are extremely important in China. Greetings should always be formal, and you should greet the eldest person first. Begin by shaking hands and addressing the other person by their formal title followed by their family name. If they would like you to call them by their first name or something else, they will generally let you know. You should avoid all physical contact aside from a handshake unless you know them personally. Often, Chinese people will ask fairly personal questions during your first encounter. Try not to get offended as this is simply done to find similarities and to get to know you better. In addition, be careful with gestures and behavior: whistling, placing your feet on a chair and pointing with your index finger are all considered rude. Public displays of affection are frowned upon in China regardless of your sexuality, so it’s recommended to err on the side of discretion. There is a large LGBTQ community in China and while they are mostly accepted, they do not have equal rights.

Attendance and Punctuality
Students from around the world come to study in China, so it’s unlikely you’ll be the only foreigner in your class. An important thing for foreign students to understand is that the education system is very competitive in China and thus it is considered a great honor to study abroad. To help convey respect and appreciation, it’s important that you show up on time to each class or meeting. Your host or professor may be five or ten minutes late, but it’s considered disrespectful for students to be late. You are expected to attend every class you sign up for, be punctual and be prepared.

Conversations and Manners
Chinese people (and many other Asian cultures) are well known for the concept of “saving face.” Saving face simply means not getting worked up or losing your cool in public as it can cause severe embarrassment. To help save face, focus on reaching a compromise during a disagreement instead of raising your voice or upsetting anyone. As a visitor, it’s important to always be conscious of how your actions and words may affect others. What may seem like a kind gesture like correcting someone or offering to pay for dinner could cause the local to “lose face.” Instead, it’s important to overlook mistakes, respect your elders, allow your hosts to pay if they insist and never put locals in a situation where they have to say ‘no’ in public.

Dining Etiquette
If you are the guest of honor, you should wait to be seated as the host will show you where to sit. The meal will begin once the host is seated and invites everyone to start eating. If your chopsticks skills are lacking, you’ll need to learn how to use them prior to studying abroad in China. Since nearly every dish other than soup is consumed with chopsticks – there’s really no avoiding them. Additionally, you should learn what not to do with chopsticks. Do not play with your chopsticks, use them to stir food, point or gesture with them, lick the ends, or stick them in the center of rice. Chopsticks rests may be provided for you in the event that you need to get up from the table or that you need to take a break. Do not point rested chopsticks at someone else seated at the table as it is considered rude.

Make sure to take time to enjoy your food and keep up with the pace of your fellow diners. Don’t be surprised if those around you burp or slurp loudly – it’s a common way of showing you’re enjoying the food. Try everything you are given, but do not clean your plate entirely or your host will worry they have not prepared enough food. If you are eating out, tipping is not required but is appreciated. It’s common to leave extra change or a couple of dollars if you are satisfied with the service. However, tipping is not required in China, so if you are unhappy with the service you should not feel obligated to tip.

Need help educating your students before they travel abroad? Contact us today to learn more.

Safe Travels!