Before I departed for China, well-wishers suggested this would be a “trip of a lifetime.” They were correct! Even before leaving, I knew three weeks abroad in a dramatically different culture and unfamiliar location would be amazing.
As any tourist would be, I was excited about the sights, tastes, history, and culture — and China and Hong Kong did not disappoint. As a graduate student, I was eager to apply what I’d been taught in the classroom about intercultural communication — and my curriculum and professors prepared me to make salient observations and ask compelling questions. As a conference presenter, I was thrilled to participate in a scholarly event, proud to be a KSU ambassador, and honored to be a panelist with speakers from distinguished universities.
As I’d hoped for, this trip fed my head, heart, and soul. I’m a better person because of the enriching experiences I was exposed to. Most of what I did and saw exceeded my expectations. Even when little things went awry (like a typhoon which Shanghaied me in Shanghai for two days due to airport closings), I learned to value what was new to me, take things in stride, or became more appreciative of my own culture.
My greatest joy came from the people I met, interacted with, and learned from. Many kind and interesting individuals were Chinese locals. Lots wanted to take photos with Americans. One shared a funny saying that points to globalization. Evidently, a Chinese man’s dream is to “live in an American house and drive a German car, while being married to a Japanese woman and employing a Chinese chef.”
Some of my fondest memories are of chance moments with other visitors to China who shared my appreciation for the opportunities we were afforded. Over breakfast in Guilin I met Ramon, an author from Latin America, who later presented me with a signed book that had been translated into English. He was visiting the Chinese countryside in order to get to know the “real” local people and better understand what all people have in common. In addition, I met Vanessa in Xian who wanted to expose her daughter to more of their diverse country. Another delightful series of conversations was shared with an Indian-Australian couple. The wife was accompanying her husband to Shanghai on business and I found it telling that they closely watched the actions of the U.S. as they believed it impacted their lives “down under.” And finally there were some entertaining/close to unnerving moments with a businessman from Afghanistan (hard to shake but harmless) in the Shanghai airport who wanted to discuss his American business ventures.
Also, touring with a multi-cultural group including Chinese nationals, a Chinese-American family, and an Indian-American family, as well as solo travel and participating on a panel with academicians from Syracuse University in New York and Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia provided me with rich perspectives, varied experiences, and new friends. I found it really interesting to hear my new friend, a bilingual teacher from San Diego, cite similarities between Mexico and China, as both are developing countries.
State Of Mind
As I suggested in my first blog, I think “state of mind” is critical when planning and experiencing an extended stay in a country that contrasts significantly with your home nation. It’s helpful to be patient, good-natured, and accept that many things will be different than you are accustomed to.
If in a position to guide future sojourners, as one might expect, I’d suggest before they travel to read about their destination, learn a few key vocabulary words and phrases to demonstrate interest and respect to their hosts, interview others who have made the journey, and pack as smartly as possible. But my best advice to future travelers might be that they should embrace the differences. First of all, their trip is likely to be for a relatively brief period of time. Second, they’d probably have a charge card and cell phone if things got really challenging. And, finally, aren’t the differences what make travel and new experiences both meaningful and memorable?