By Steve Kelman

Blog archive

Taiwanese students on the U.S.: Disneyland, Las Vegas, shopping malls

I spoke to a group of undergraduate and master's students at Taiwan Normal University in Taiwan yesterday, and asked them a bunch of questions about the United States and China. The responses were interesting -- especially the similarities between their answers and the answers of students from China I have asked similar questions when speaking to them in the US.

About one-third of these students had already visited the United States, which I thought was a high number given the distance and price. Only about 25 percent of them had visited mainland China. I asked those who hadn't visited the US what they would like to see in the US if they came. The three top answers were Disneyland, Las Vegas, and NBA basketball. The ones who hadn't visited mainland China told me that if they went there, they would want to see the Great Wall and the Forbidden City, which makes them very similar to American tourists going to China.)

I asked them -- like I have asked Chinese students in the past -- to tell me two things they liked about the US and two things they disliked. They liked American food and shopping malls. Perhaps out of politeness, nobody told me anything they disliked. Their responses centered on elements of US popular culture, very much like responses I have gotten from Chinese students in the past.

I asked them their opinions of President Obama. Thirteen said they liked him and 20 didn't express an opinion. None of them said they disliked him. But those who liked him were not clear on why. When I asked, the only response I got -- from a girl -- was "he's very handsome," and the other girls in the audience agreed. This was pretty much identical -- both in numbers and in the reason people liked him -- that I got a while ago when I asked this same question to Chinese students.

I asked them if they thought the US was friendly or unfriendly to Taiwan. The answer was pretty overwhelming, and actually surprised me -- only one said friendly, 25 unfriendly. Actually, a larger proportion of Chinese students thought the US was friendly to China, though when I asked the question the last time, it was a minority who thought the US friendly to them.

About 80 percent of the students were on Facebook. None had even heard of Ren-ren, the mainland Chinese and Chinese-language Facebook knockoff. US soft power still lives.

These answers were interesting. To the extent one can generalize from them, it is quite remarkable how little the impressions of Asian students about the US has anything to do with politics or international affairs -- actually, not at all. Impressions are dominated by pop culture. I think this certainly would not have been the case for European students when I studied in Sweden many years ago, and I think even today it would be even less true of European students than of these Asian ones. European students I think also are far more informed about the US than these Taiwanese and Chinese ones.

 

Posted by Steve Kelman on Dec 24, 2009 at 12:08 PM


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