Truths for a Huayi Living in China



Upon boarding my final flight from Toronto to Tianjin, I could already start to visualize my adventures in this new and unfamiliar country. Although being of Chinese decent, it’s quite unfortunate that I never picked up Mandarin as a child. Sticking with English growing up was just the most convenient in a household with 6 collective languages. As I eagerly wait for my long journey to China to begin, the stewardess pleasantly making the rounds approached me and cheerfully said something to me in Mandarin. After a long pause and a blank gaze on my end and a confused look on hers, I realized being a *Huayi in China would be quite the experience.

A Huáyì 华裔 or Hǎiwài Huárén 海外华人 is the term that refers to people of Chinese birth or descent that live outside the Greater China area or overseas. While studying Mandarin in Tianjin for the last semester, I also discovered that there are many benefits to being a Hauyi in China. This is what I have learned and how I have used it to improve my Chinese and immersion experience:

1. Hello there fellow Chinese!

I’ve experience this when being approached by solicitors, locals asking me for directions or when I’m in a group of foreigners. I find that opportunities to speak with locals come by easier when you look Chinese. It’s a great way to practice your Chinese, especially when they eventually realize that you are not one of them and are genuinely curious about your background. This also results in making Chinese friends a lot easier.

2. Less of a target for pickpockets.

Although this is impossible to completely prevent, I haven’t had any issues with having my things stolen. But I’ve been with fellow foreigners who have gotten their wallet cunningly snatched on the subway. The unfortunate thing was that it wasn’t the first time they’ve been a victim of pickpocketing in China. Looking like a foreigner can sometimes attract negative attention.

3. People Mountain People Sea.

Most non-Chinese Asians will probably experience this but having very similar features to everyone in your vicinity can be quite problematic sometimes. Especially when your friends are trying to pick you out in a sea of people, it’s essentially an extremely hard real life version of where’s Waldo. But on the positive side you don’t get approached for pictures or have people staring at you in public.

4. Part-time Jobs

Working part-time while studying is quite popular amongst students. So when I heard of some of the cool jobs my friends landed such as acting, modelling, teaching English and doing promotional work I thought I’d dive into the job hunt. But shortly realized most of those jobs are tailored for foreign looks, even most English teaching positions require you to attach a photo. It’s not impossible finding such jobs but definitely much harder for a Huayi.  

Despite all the ups and downs of my study abroad experience in China, I wouldn't change a minute of it. Coming to China to study is daunting and intimidating but the rewards are huge when you finally realise that you understand the culture and speak the language. I would recommend this experience to anyone interested in learning more about this vast country and unique cultre.

Written by Lilian Chiu, Winner of China Study Abroad's One Year Study and Intern Scholarship 2014

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