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In US universities, Chinese students drink a lot less than American peers – report

American students drink considerably more than Chinese students. Source: Shutterstock

American universities are grappling with (at times, fatal) problems of students excessively drinking. Fraternities are regularly on the news for the excesses of Greek Life, where alcohol, parties and hazing frequently occur.

Similarly, as students across the pond look back on Freshers Week, drunkenness becomes a common situation at many UK universities as anxious newbies try to connect with people and settle in quickly.

This isn’t the case among Chinese students at US colleges and universities, however.

A survey by Purdue University has found only around one in five (21 percent) Chinese students drank once per month or more in the past semester –  a frequency that is “significantly lower” than the drinking behaviour among the general college student population in the US, which was 83 percent for males and 79 percent for females.

Their vice appears to lie in cigarettes instead. While the majority of Chinese students did not smoke, about 10 percent of survey respondents indicated that they smoked, whereas among the general college student population, the smoking rate was about five percent.

A young Chinese-American man having a cigarette, Chinatown, San Francisco, California. Source: Shutterstock

More than 1,000 Chinese students and visiting scholars at a national research university in the Midwest took part in the online survey in Chinese, which aimed to look into the social, cultural, and spiritual life of Chinese students and scholars.

The report also found that the majority of Chinese students drank with two or more friends. Around 10 percent of Chinese undergraduates smoked between two to five cigarettes per day, more than twice the rate among Chinese graduate students. Chinese graduate students are even less likely to smoke  than Chinese undergraduates.

With drinking culture so prominent on US campuses, Purdue’s survey raises questions over how Chinese students have managed to maintain sobriety. Most social events, including Frosh Week, St Patrick’s Day or a Friday night at the bar, revolve around alcohol, often in copious amounts. This has led to reports of negative consequences arising as a result of consistent binge drinking, from its effect on students’ intellectual functioning to their social lives and physical health.

While it’s a good thing Chinese students aren’t drinking that heavily and are thus likely to be avoiding such pitfalls, Purdue’s findings could also mean they’re not fully participating in social life on campus with their American peers. According to the Journal of International and Intercultural Communication, 40 percent of international students had no close friends among their domestic classmates, a rate that was especially high among East Asian students.


1843 Magazine reported that at the University of Iowa, the Chinese student population is so large – accounting for 80 percent of all international undergraduates last year – that they form a separate world of their own. Here, they only speak Mandarin, only study with other Chinese learners and only attend events organised by Chinese peers.

Purdue’s survey also showed Chinese students to spend the majority of their time on Chinese social media sites and websites over other news outlets. The majority of respondents also said their roommates are Chinese (87 percent) and their close circle of friends mostly comprise of Chinese, Overseas Chinese or other East Asian students.

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