Have you read Pride and Prejudice? Do you believe that kind of love story happens in real life? As an incoming international student, I could never have imagined that I would date a person with a completely different cultural experience to me. My time in Australia, and my relationships here, have led me to realise the importance of understanding different cultures.
I have lived in my home country, China, for 20 years of my life. In 2015, I decided to study in Australia. A year after, I met him in a business class: a British Australian. Perhaps I remember those initial interactions so clearly since he usually raised his hand to answer questions in every class as a display of his intelligence. I remembered his name because such ‘overconfident’ behaviour was impressive and very new to me; I was not used to a culture or society that encourages such confidence. In China, humility is much more valued and consequently that was what I found more attractive.
We started to talk to each other after a teamwork activity during class and slowly began to find common interests. I was invested in learning about British history, and him about ancient Chinese history. He gradually became friendlier and asked to meet up a few times, however, I turned him down because I did not like a person that is too ‘overconfident’. After a month I started to spend time with him, since I was moved and a little surprised by his eagerness. We went to several places and had many adventures together: such as escape rooms, rock climbing and road trips. For over two months I was happy to have made a new friend — until he asked me to be his girlfriend one day.
I was shocked, and my mind went completely blank, before I eventually blurted out that I didn’t know. I was so perplexed because he’d never even told me that he liked me before. To this he was confused and said: “But I tried to keep a fuller beard for you since many Australian girls seem to prefer men with beards.” I laughed in response, saying: “But most Chinese girls prefer men without beards since they usually do look younger!”
He anxiously started listing different examples: “But I made a lot of eye contact with you on our first date! And you always shared your food with me when I asked you.” I was even more confused at this, replying: “First of all, you never told me it was a date and I only thought we were hanging out as friends. You even stared at me during the entire thing for three hours, and my coffee got cold, so I didn’t even get to drink it! And for the food, in my culture we always share food with friends, whether they’re the same gender or not.”
It took a while for us to clear up the misconceptions both of us held and the resulting misunderstandings, but it was rewarding. In the end, we did actually end up dating. Having a relationship as a foreigner in Australia was a unique part of my experience here. During the course of our relationship I have realised that it is important to learn a country’s culture, not just the language. Although we still have our misunderstandings, since we started sharing our cultures and languages with each other more frequently, I think we understand each other much better. As time goes by, my culture shock continues to fade away due to this support. Instead I feel safer in this new and unfamiliar environment.