It really is too bad. On one side you have Israelis who are interested in Asia, fantasizing about graduating their East Asia BA and heading off to meet the exotic cultures of the East, and on the other side there are the Asian students who’re studying in Israel, wanting to get to know the local culture and people better. It’s quite rare that I see those two mingle and get together. Actually, I felt it was quite the same when I was in London. Why, I wonder, don’t the Asian students mingle with the locals? Why is it that the Israelis obsessed with Asia don’t make the effort to try to meet the Asian students?
You see, I know that some of my Asian friends in Israel – and their friends – feel somewhat lonely and isolated here and that they want to meet the locals. I also know that some Israelis would die for a good Asian friend or culture/language-exchange. Yesterday I had a long discussion about this with a close friend and figured that maybe one of the reasons for this are some misconceptions and myths about Asians in Israel. So, following the Israeli group-writing invitation for myths, here are the myths Israelis have about Asians:
They’re all… (the same)
I can’t put it more bluntly – they’re not. Taiwanese I know are not like the Chinese I meet, and my Koreans friends don’t act the same as the Japanese I’m close to. But more important, one Taiwanese I know is not like another Taiwanese, one Korean isn’t identical to the other. Grouping people according to their nationality and interpreting their behavior based on national stereotypes is just wrong.
I often, very often, get – "You don’t seem like the average Israeli", and there’s that amusing response from people I first meet in person when I’m away from Israel – "but, but, but, how can it be? I thought you’re from the middle-east!". Who exactly is the average "Israeli" or "middle-eastern"? The human and cultural diversity in Israel is so great that there’s just no "average Israeli". China is so big that it’s sometimes absurd talking about "the Chinese", and even in the smaller Taiwan/Korea/Israel there are different minorities, different social classes, different parts of the country, different religions, different families, different personalities within one family. If there’s one thing I know is that stereotypes don’t work, and no – they don’t help you by providing short-cuts – they stand in your way. They might prevent you from really getting to know a special someone who’s only fault it that s/he’s different from you.
"They would rather be on their own" or "They would rather study all the time"
I can’t generalize, but it’s my impression that most Asian students I talk to here would rather not be alone, and so far – the Asian stereotype for academic excellence at all (social-life) costs is rare. We can atleast arrive at the conclusion that not all of them would rather be alone or that not all of them are study-freaks.
The language barrier is impossible
Sure, it might make things simpler if you have more ways of expressing yourself, but language isn’t a necessity, sometimes it’s even a barrier. For example, and this was true for me a while back, a non native English speaker might feel more confident talking to some another non-native English speaker using a smaller English vocabulary that he would with a native English speaker. Being with someone is usually about having a connection that goes beyond words. While I was staying in Hoi-An, Vietnam, one of my best friends there was a girl that spoke almost no English. My Vietnamese was still crap, and there was no translator available. Yet, we would sit down together in front of her cloth-shop for hours, almost daily, talking together and sharing ideas and thoughts. I guess only those who’ve gone through something like that would know what I mean.
The culture barrier is impossible
There’s nothing impossible about cultural differences – it only depends on cultural openness from both sides. Where people might see difficulties – I see challenges, where folks might feel frustrated – I feel amazed and excited. Ask my old friends and they’ll expose me – I wasn’t always like this. Cultural barriers used to scare me. What changed? I tried it once, and my whole world changed. It might not be the same for you, it might not happen the first time, it might not happen at all, but why not give it a try?
They’re too shy, they’re unapproachable
I think the Asian equivalent for the Israelis is – "They’re too much, they’re unapproachable". Well, some might be, others aren’t. People might also have different (cultural) interpretations of "shy" or "social". I would rather put it that way – some people of different cultures might have a different way of looking at or doing things, but that doesn’t make them less approachable. I’ve had a few occasions where my initial instinct about a person’s approachability, friendliness and/or shyness was completely reversed within one minute of conversation, and I’ve been told the same about me. Don’t be shy to approach people you’re interested in just because you think they’re shy.