Being Black in China means you stand out like a sore thumb, but not only that being a foreigner also means there are many assumptions made about you, some good and some not so good. Being out in this position made me feel very frustrated at times, which has helped me develop mor empathy for people who I do not know or understand well. Before coming to China I had a few assumptions of my own about Chinese culture that were proven wrong, but even when they were right I now understood the why behind the behavior which helped me to cultivate tolerance.
Early on I discovered that a lot of the assumptions made about me were due to what people had seen on TV. By coming to China and being a cultural ambassador I was able to help people expand their thinking on what Black people and Americans were like. It can be challenging at times being in a place so unlike home, but exposure is an essential part in making a difference.
Praise is Powerful
At my internship I experienced many miscommunications due to language barriers. Sometimes I’d start a project only to realize I’d misunderstood the instructions. There were many days I felt almost useless, but my manager was always quick to commend me on the good work I did do and this gave me the energy to keep moving forward with a positive attitude. I found that after genuine commendation I was even more motivated to do a good job. This is a great lesson for me because I am a leader in different activities in my school, going forward I will try to implement more genuine praise.
Different doesn’t mean better or worse
China can feel very overwhelming because things are so different. It can be very easy to dismiss different as inferior, but my trip to China taught me that this is not the case. If anything, there is a lot of power in having diverse perspectives.
When you travel it can be very fun but what few people talk about is how lonely it can get sometimes which is only natural considering that you are away from family and friends and everything is so unfamiliar to you. Its rare in our culture to have honest discussions about topics like loneliness, so it can feel like you are the only one experiencing this type of emotional stress. This is how I felt until someone from my cohort confided in me that they were feeling lonely too. This sparked an instant friendship and helped both of us enjoy our time more.
Humor goes a long way
There’s nothing like humor to take the sting out of painful moments in life. Without a sense of humor my time in China would have been much harder. No one is perfect. I’ve learned to not take myself so seriously and laugh at my mistakes.
Expect the unexpected
Believe me, you’ll save yourself a lot of disappointment
China is dynamic and ever changing which means things can get pretty chaotic sometimes, but learning how to cope when you have no control over a situation is the type of attitude that will helo you not only survive but thrive. I think I’ve definitely grown in this area over the summer.
Be Culturally Adaptable and Sensitive
We live in a globalized world. Admiring another culture from afar is not sufficient, understanding the nuances and lived reality are essential skills to have in today’s job market. What I read about in travel guides and books was no match to what I experienced on the ground and learning quickly to be culturally adaptable was essential.
After being in China I am much more grateful for what I have at home. Don’t get me wrong there were many amazing things about China, but being away from family and friends made me realize how important relationships are and motivates me to maintain and strengthen those bonds.