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Advice for International Students and Hosts.

Advice for International Students and Hosts - NZCFS

We hope the following may be helpful to all concerned, especially educational institutions with Chinese students as part of their pastoral care programme.

These days very large numbers of Chinese are coming to New Zealand to study and most find themselves in “homestay” situations. For both “guests” and “hosts” it can be a completely new experience.

We hope the following may be helpful to all concerned, especially educational institutions with Chinese students as part of their pastoral care programme.

Cultural Differences includes a section for the homestay host to assist understanding of the culture of the Chinese student, and a section for the Chinese student to assist understanding of their homestay situation.

The Questionnaire is intended for use as an ‘icebreaker’, and to assist with establishing some ground-rules in the first days of the relationship.

Both the section for Chinese students and the questionnaire are available in Chinese translation. For copies of these translations, and for further information, please contact the New Zealand China Friendship Society at [email protected]

(for provision to the student)

  • New Zealanders are casual and informal.
  • We dress casually on many occasions, e.g., in the weekend we will go shopping in ” beach wear”.
  • We are not punctual. Don’t be concerned or offended if someone says they will pick you up at 1.30 and they don’t arrive until 1.45.
  • Subjects such as salary, mortgages and age are considered private.
  • New Zealanders can be offended by personal comments such as ” you have put on weight” ,” she is skinny” , ” his hair is very grey”.
  • Breakfast is often informal and each person in a family may prepare their own.
  • The midday meal is not a family meal, and often cold food is prepared at home and eaten at school or work.
  • The main meal of the day is eaten in the evening.
  • New Zealand food is different from Chinese food, not so spicy.
  • New Zealanders, especially adults, like to hear people say ” Thank you”

(for provision to the host family)


  • Food is very important in Chinese culture, the preparation can be an art form, and a major leisure activity. Different foods have significance attached, combinations of food are sometimes important, and nutrition has a distinct place in Chinese healthcare.
  • Chinese people believe that, to keep healthy, one should have something nutritious for breakfast, eat until full for lunch and have a light supper. That’s why lunch is regarded as dinner all around the country.
  • Main course for most Chinese is still rice or wheat flour products like steamed buns or noodles; potato is only taken as a kind of vegetable and bread as a snack.
  • Although Muslim Chinese are very familiar with mutton, most Chinese, and in particular people from the south of China, generally do not like mutton or lamb.
  • If a Chinese person doesn’t like to have the New Zealand style breakfast, it is a good idea to give him or her instant noodles or toast and fried eggs for a change, or the leftovers from the Chinese meal the night before.
  • Hot chili sauce is a favourite to have available as a condiment. Perhaps provide information on where to buy Chinese food.
  • Most Chinese prefer tea to coffee. They are not used to having milk in their tea. Green tea is readily available in most supermarkets if it is their preferred beverage.
  • Some Chinese people make quite a noise while eating.
  • Chopsticks are difficult for Westerners to master and knives and forks may be difficult for Chinese. It may be appropriate to have spoons or chopsticks available, and at times to attempt to use chopsticks yourselves.


  • Most Chinese tend to be reserved. If a Chinese person has difficulty expressing himself or herself properly, he/she will perhaps keep silent. Chinese are often good listeners but not good speakers.
  • Losing face is an important concept. Chinese people do not enjoy being made to look foolish, or to be placed in uncompromising situations.
  • Chinese often react to embarrassment by laughing, and a smile or “yes” may be the reply to a question or remark that has not been understood.
  • A Chinese high school graduate has learned English for at least six years and when he goes to college, he will study for another two years. For many students their oral ability is not as good as their reading and writing.
  • Chinese are taught to be modest, hence, in most cases, they will play down their own abilities. So do not always expect to hear “Thank you” when you say something complimentary to them. Correspondingly, they will also be quick to praise you for trivial achievements.
  • Students may bring their own medicines and prefer to go to Chinese doctors, if available.


  • In China, a bathroom is small and will have a central drain hole with the shower in one corner of the room, so its fine for water to be all over the floor as it can just drain away. In New Zealand bathrooms it’s not so convenient with water everywhere, and this might need to be explained.
  • Chinese people like to have towels of their own for showers or baths.
  • They often wear slippers at home, and no one would walk on the street with bare feet. Most Chinese women do not wear bare legs.
  • Some Chinese refuse to let others wash their underwear or socks because they think these things are dirty and they do not want to cause others the trouble.
  • Chinese people find flies unbearable, so they will not let any fly in their house.
  • They do not drink tap water, because they think unboiled water is bad for health.
  • They might rinse dishes in cold water before using them.
  • Though people are taught not to spit or litter, some find it hard to get rid of these bad habits.
  • They like to give presents as tokens of friendship.
  • They often laugh when others are embarrassed, e.g., when a student gives a wrong or funny answer to the teacher’s question, the others will laugh; but they do not mean to be rude.
  • They are often quite formal, which is a way to show due respect for others.
  • Chinese people do not regard salary or age as private matters, so some people may ask Westerners these questions without knowing that they are embarrassing others. Lack of English ability can also make questions appear more blunt than they are intended to be.
  • Personal privacy is not important in China, so private papers etc can be looked at by visitors.
  • Chinese people are quite concerned by matters of health. Sore throats, cuts, hives and allergies are taken very seriously.
  • They are often not good travelers. Carsickness remedies to try are ginger, dried plums, tablets from the Chemist and a front seat in the car.
  • Advice on when Chinese films are showing, and Chinese language broadcasts can be heard may assist the student with life in New Zealand.


  • The visiting student will probably be unfamiliar with New Zealand accents and colloquial expressions, and may take time to adjust.
  • Host families should attempt to learn some basic greetings. You are not trying to learn Mandarin but a few phrases of language shows respect for another person’s culture and can be a good ice breaker, e.g.: Ni hao – hello; Zai jian – goodbye; Xiexie – thankyou.


Intended for use in establishing ground rules and breaking the ice in at an early stage of arrival. Adapted from Rotary International Youth Exchange Programme New Zealand, June 1992 and AFS Handbook.

  • What do I call you? Mum, Dad or first name?
  • Do I have to:
    • make my bed, and please show me how
    • keep my room tidy at all times
    • keep the bathroom clean, and please show me how to use the bathroom
  • What other jobs do you want me to do?
  • Should I wash my own clothes?
  • Where do I keep my clothes until wash day?
  • Should I iron my own clothes?
  • May I use the iron, washing machine, sewing machine, etc.?
  • Where can I keep my bathroom toilet accessories?
  • When is the best time for me to use the bathroom on weekday mornings?
  • When is the best time for me to use the bath: a.m. or p.m.?
  • What time do we eat?
  • Do I have a regular job at mealtimes? For example:
    • set the table
    • clear the table
    • wash up/ dry up/stack the dishwasher
    • put everything away after a meal
    • empty the rubbish bin.
  • May I help myself food and drink in moderation at any time or must I ask first?
  • May I cook family meals?
  • Where may I smoke?
  • What areas are strictly private, e.g., bar, study, sewing room, pantry?
  • May I put up pictures, posters, etc., in my bedroom?
  • Where can I store my suitcases?
  • What time must I get up weekday mornings?
  • What time must I get up weekends and holidays?
  • What time must I go to bed weekdays?
  • Do I have to ask you if I want to go out?
  • What time must I be in at night if I go out? Can exceptions be made by special arrangement?
  • Can I have friends to stay overnight?
  • Can I invite friends of both sexes around during the day?
  • What are the rules about local phone calls?
  • May my friends phone me?
  • What are the rules about New Zealand toll calls?
  • What are the rules about overseas calls?
  • Do you have e-mail facility, and can I use it?
  • What are the rules for internet use?
  • What is the procedure for posting letters?
  • Do family members have any dislikes or hates, e.g., chewing gum, music, lack of punctuality, people being interrupted when reading the newspaper, smoking?
  • How do I get around? E.g., Is there a bus route? Do I get a bicycle? Will it be possible to get a ride to and from parties, etc.?
  • What are your feelings or rules about transport?
  • May I play the hi-fi or television, etc.?
  • How often do the family go to church? Am I expected to go too?
  • Do you expect me to telephone if I am going to be 20, or 30 minutes late? from school? from any other outing?
  • Check dates of birthdays of Host Mum, Dad, Brother, Sister (from host family papers).
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