So with my recent upgrade comes a whole host of new problems. With my old group I originally joined because of my friends, so I always had a bunch of people to play with. As I rose up the ranks and got to know everyone I could dictate who I wanted to play with and basically boss everyone around, heh heh.
I lost all that switching to a new group and even worse I am at a distinct disadvantage because:
I’m the only foreigner
I’m one of the worst players
Everyone is a stranger (except my coach)
So what to do? After having a slightly awkward and lonely first week, I decided I needed to do something:
Turn my major disadvantage into an advantage
Being a foreigner is clearly a disadvantage because people are too shy to come up and talk to me thinking I can’t speak Chinese and no one invites me to play with them. The first time I played with this group I sat off to the side a lot more than I wanted to and sat by myself while others sat together.
But there are some people curious about foreigners and I have learned to spot them. It’s easy to figure out who. They smile when I catch their eye. (Smiling when you catch someones eye is not a common thing in China, so it doesn’t happen a lot.) They are my “mark.” I pay attention to who smiles at me, and then quickly assess their skills. Then I hone in on the best one and try to play with them.
Playing with the better players gives you some “street cred” and shows that you are worth playing with, so if I have to use my “foreign-ness” to get there, I’m willing to do it.
Play with the women
I’m a bit of a tomboy and in my life I have always felt more comfortable being friends with guys rather than girls. In badminton I much prefer playing with guys. But I will admit that there is a camaraderie with women that is turning out to be helpful. It’s easier to chat with them and to ask them to play, and this older woman who has amazing accuracy and control of the birdie has taken me under her wing and has been helping me improve my footwork.
Chat a lot
We have a chat group and even if I don’t have much to say, I make sure to include myself into as many conversations as I can, even if it is with a giggle face or a thumbs up emoji. But I also try to write Chinese as much as I can to show everyone that I can speak Chinese and they shouldn’t be nervous talking to me.
This has worked a lot, and now I actually have people check with me privately to see if I understand some joking that is going on in the group. When I don’t, they explain it to me which is really nice.
Show up Early, Leave Late
I feel like I need to prove to them that I am serious. After all, these are people who have been playing badminton for decades and love it more than I do. I don’t want to come off as the silly little girl play-acting.
So I always arrive early and I play until there is no one left to play. I also try not to ask for a break, letting the other person suggest it first. People are beginning to notice.
Be Laughed At
As a teacher and someone with a lot of non-native English speaking friends, I try to never laugh at people’s English. (Sometimes it’s hard when “beach” and “bitch” have such similar pronunciations, but I try.) I mean, so what if someone messes up pronunciation. Understanding is the important part.
So when people laugh at my Chinese I get kinda annoyed. “Hey!” I want to yell. “I’m TRYING!” But with this new group, I’m not mad when they laugh at me.
One night, after playing for almost 4 hours a few of us we were sitting down and chatting. I was telling them that I was gonna go study Chinese over the summer. Unfortunately, the pronunciation for “Chinese” and “Korean” is very similar and they all laughed and joked I was gonna study Korean. Then we started talking about their Chinese, and who had better pronunciation. And of course they made fun of my “foreign accent.”
It’s way better for them to be talking to me and chiding me for wrong pronunciation then ignoring me or being too nervous to talk to me to begin with. So I didn’t get annoyed at all. They can make fun of me all they want, as long as they keep playing with me. Who needs pride?
Be Brave and Ask People to Play With Me
This is the hardest one, but due to the aforementioned disadvantages not many people asked me to play. They are too shy, I am too shy also and they know each other and have friends in the group. So it’s much easier to just play with the people you know then the newbie foreigner. After the first week of standing off to the side, I realized that I would kinda have to force myself on them. If there was an open court, I would have to find 3 people and try to get them to play. It worked pretty well the second week and now it’s getting easier as at least I am playing with more people and getting to know them.
Learning a new sport is challenging enough, but when you add in cultural, language and just new people and new challenges it can be really tough. So I need a “social plan” just as much as I need a “training plan.” I’ll keep you informed in how it works!