Foreign Perspective: Americans Ask (Asian) International Students the Silliest Things

If you’ve ever studied abroad, then you know what it’s like to be submerged in an entirely foreign culture. But have you ever wondered what it’s like on the flip side of the experience – what it’s like for someone going abroad to America? Join columnists Amy Chilcott, of Australia, and Kasumi Hirokawa, of China, as they encounter all things American and Penn State – and tell it as they see it the way only one with a foreign perspective can.


Last week we gave you the Euro/Kiwi perspective on these silliest of questions. Now, read on as the Asian Internationals share their encounters with curious, misinformed Americans.

It fascinates me how confusing Asian students are to fellow human beings of non-Asian descent to this day. I’m pretty sure there are way more than the ones I have up here, but without further adieu, these are what I consider to be among the most common questions American students ask Asian students:

“Are you from North Korea or South Korea?”

If you have been catching up with the rest of the world (aka if you read newspapers and pass history classes) you would not be asking this question in the first place.

“Are you going back to your country on [insert name of three day weekend or a one week holiday]?”

This is nothing specific to Asian international students but if you think about it, East and Southeast Asia are pretty far away from east coast. Try alternating between sitting on an economy class seat on a plane and sitting on hard benches at an airport gate with crappy wifi for twenty-something hours. And that’s still a one-way trip.

“You are from [insert a country]? You must know this other girl/guy who’s from the same country!”

Again, you don’t have to be from Asia to have someone say this to you. You just got to be from outside the United States to have the honor to politely explain how there are millions of people living in our home countries (surprise!) and that you don’t know every single person from your country, let alone those on campus. Like, do you personally know every single American on planet Earth?

“Can you translate this?”

The question itself is innocent, yes. But when the material in question – be it a hit single by Psy, a sentence from a manga book or a conversation of a random group of international students shuffling by – is in a language I don’t understand or inappropriate or just plain nonsense, it’s annoying.

“Why don’t you have an accent?”

Almost everyone I meet for the first time says this: airport security personnel, my sources, flight attendants, students, professors, my friends’ moms, Starbucks baristas and grocery store cashiers. My life goal is to reply with “Oh I must have left it on the plane on the way here. Where can I get one? Is it expensive?”

“Do you speak Asian?”

I wish I could say I made this up but it’s an actual thing someone said to me. I mean… seriously? There are thousands of languages worldwide but Asian is not one of them.

“I’m glad you don’t have one of those weird Asian names.”

Our names are normal, thank you very much.

“I’ve always wanted to have an Asian girlfriend/boyfriend with a cute accent.”

If this happens to be your go-to pick-up line, you may want to think twice before you step out the door and gush about how cool “the Asian culture” is to a random person. Because nothing like people with yellow fever makes us run for the hills.

“You’re SO Asian!”

Ah, nothing beats the classic. This gem gets thrown around a lot when you are caught gracefully eating food off of a take-out box with a pair of chopsticks, begrudgingly admitting to liking Mulan, failing to park the car the right way or do well on things which are generally deemed Asian-friendly. Whatever the heck that means.

Thoughts? Is something missing from the list? International students, what would you like to add?

Photo by Shantelle Williams


  • Avatar Irina says:

    Hi! Great article.

    I am also an international student from Russia. I have come across similar questions. But I don’t judge the Americans. As the same things happen to them when they are in our countries. I have a friend from England. He has been to Russia 10 times or may be more. But every time he asks me to meet him at the airport. Just because he is scared to tavel alone in my country. So, when the Americans keep asking me whether I drink a lot of vodka to warm up, I am already fine with that question:)) They just know “a single story ” about our country. And I try to break stereotypes built by the Russians many years ago!

    Hello from Kent State, Ohio:))

  • Avatar Hannah says:

    Well “Say something in [your language]” is thrown around a lot =)) As if we always have some random thing to say :))

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