Cultural Differences Between the US and China You Should Know
Choosing to do an internship abroad is always a culturally enriching experience. When you’re moving from the United States to China for a gap year, internship, or other experience, you’ll need to expect some differences. Knowing more about the cultural differences between the U.S. and China will help you prepare for the journey ahead. However, it’s also worth knowing that the two cultures aren’t entirely alien to one another. There are some similarities too, which you may find reassuring if you’re wondering how well you’ll settle into your new environment.
Individuality in Chinese culture vs American culture
As The Land of the Free, the U.S. features a nation of individuals who really love to maintain their individuality. One of the biggest cultural differences between the U.S. and China that you'll notice is that moving through society with only an individual sense of purpose is largely frowned upon.
One way to illustrate this is to look at American workplaces versus Chinese workplaces. In the United States, negotiating an amazing deal for a company can be celebrated as an individual achievement. It isn’t unusual for that individual to thank their broader team, but the success is still theirs and theirs alone. In China, large successes are often viewed as a collective achievement with recognition distributed accordingly.
Socializing plays a strong role in business in China vs the U.S.
When it comes to running an American business, time is often of the essence. Although China is known for its efficiency, you may find their approach to the networking aspects of business confusing. When it comes to Chinese culture vs American culture in the business world, socializing in America is much more fleeting than it is in China.
Networking plays a strong role in Chinese business transactions. It may be worth seeing it as a means of gaining a potential associate’s trust. Although there’s no ideal length of time for socializing, the stricter elements of business won’t take place until everyone has networked well enough. If you take a summer internship in China, you're likely to find the emphasis on networking is quite enjoyable.
Hierarchy presents significant differences between Chinese and American culture
Another of the more noteworthy differences between Chinese and American culture comes in the form of hierarchy. In both countries, it’s well recognized that companies have a hierarchy. However, in the U.S. many workplaces make active efforts to break down the barriers between higher members of the management team and the lowest paid staff. One example of this is the open office culture, where junior members will sit alongside directors conducting their workplace activities. If a CEO walks past one of the lowest paid staff members, it’s considered proper for them to say hello.
As one of the most striking differences between Chinese and American culture, the barriers that exist to maintain hierarchical structures can feel strange at first. It’s practically unheard of for entry-level staff to interact with a CEO, even if they’re in the same room. The shift toward open offices in a bid to promote reduced hierarchy barriers in the West doesn't really exist in China. When settling into your new environment, it’s a good idea to be aware of this, otherwise, you may feel as though different members of various workplaces are being purposefully rude to one another. When taking a gap year in China, such differences are worth remembering.
Classrooms aren’t as relaxed in Chinese culture
In most American schools, the classroom environment may feel more relaxed than in Chinese schools. This is quite typical of Asian culture vs American culture. Although teachers are seen as professionals worthy of respect in both countries, the free expression of thought and casual relationships with teachers aren’t as present in Chinese schools.
When learning or teaching in a Chinese school, it’s normal to see students raise their hand to ask a question. It’s almost unheard of for them to shout answers out freely. In addition, students may also stand when a teacher enters the room. They’re quite likely to maintain title formalities such as calling someone “miss” or “sir” too. If you study at a Chinese University in China, you're likely to notice such changes.
Conflict is less common in China vs America
In China, you’re less likely to see someone raise an issue directly with the person who’s left them feeling aggrieved. Again, this is quite normal when looking at the differences between Asian culture vs American culture. As Chinese people see their efforts as being focused on their community at large rather than individuals, reducing conflict is important.
Maintaining a cheery atmosphere within Chinese society is an effort that contributes toward the greater good. If you’re used to raising issues as they arise, you may find this cultural difference a little difficult to navigate.
Older people are supported to their grave and beyond in Chinese culture vs American culture
Like many Western countries, the physical and mental changes that come with aging are seen as a burden. In the U.S., it isn’t unusual for elderly members of the family to spend their final years in a retirement home where they receive support from care professionals.
One of the most endearing aspects of Chinese culture is the way they treat the elderly members of their family. Growing old is seen as a life phase where one acquires wisdom, which means senior family members are continuously looked to for guidance. They’re also well-respected and far more likely to be cared for within the family home than placed into a retirement community.
Another of the differences between U.S. and Chinese culture that plays into supporting elderly family members is that it’s unusual for Chinese families to move thousands of miles apart from one another. In contrast, people in the United States may move across the country for work or education and remain apart for their whole lives.
Money is spent frugally in Asian culture vs American culture
Both China and America are well known for their love of technology. This is one of the most significant similarities between Chinese culture and American culture. Some of the world’s biggest advances are made in both countries yet the people of China don’t see spending hard-earned money on iPhones and new gaming consoles as being as necessary. As one of the most practical distinctions between the two cultures, you may find that you benefit from China’s frugal approach to money.
Many Chinese households see money as something that’s to be treasured. They’ll reserve their finances for absolute essentials, such as education and repairs around the home. Owning the latest cosmetics, clothes, and gadgets is far less important, whereas in America there’s a desire to have the newest things. If you take on an internship in China, you may want to follow your new friends’ leads and start saving your cash for when you return home.
Eating out in China vs the U.S.
Going out for food in another country doesn’t always need to feel unusual because of the differences in cuisine and culture. In America, it’s normal for everyone to split the bill and then tip the service staff.In many cases, it can feel rude to not do so.
In contrast, when you invite someone out for a meal in China vs the U.S. it’s normal for you to be the one who pays. Similarly, if someone else invites you out for food, they’ll be the one who pays. Tipping staff isn’t seen as a necessity and can often be viewed as rude.
Similarities between Chinese and American culture
While it’s clear there are lots of differences between Chinese and American culture, it’s worth learning about the similarities too. Knowing more about the similarities between Chinese and American culture is an excellent way to put yourself at ease when you move to your new home.
Everyone must be in agreement
People in China view consensus as important as those in the United States. Before making key decisions, they’ll expect that the majority of people must be in agreement about the best way to reach the desired outcome. You may find this reassuring, as this means you’re unlikely to find yourself suffering from an autocratic workplace.
Punctuality is one of the cherished similarities in both Chinese and American culture
While American people love to be time-sensitive, those in China love to be respectful. One of the more cherished crossovers between the two cultures is the way both view punctuality as a necessity. Arriving late for an appointment or meeting is generally frowned upon. As such, you’ll spot very few differences here.
Higher education is seen as being central to social mobility
Like many parts of the world, both America and China see higher education as being the key to social mobility. Those who aspire to better their circumstances or to create better living conditions than the ones they experienced as children will prioritize their education to make this happen. Where you will see differences, though, is in the higher education infrastructure. The modernizing of campuses isn’t always viewed as a priority and so many Chinese students may pursue their education online or by studying abroad.
Although there aren’t as many similarities between Chinese and American culture as there are differences, you should find living in China is easier than you think. Expect to undergo an adjustment period, but once it’s over you’ll feel settled into your new home and ready to learn more from those around you. One of the best ways to make things easier for yourself is to observe day-to-day interactions as much as you can and reflect on them later. Keeping a reflective diary will help you immerse yourself in new customs and it’ll make the experience more enriching.
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