Back to My Roots: Pre-Departure Reflection

I find the entire idea of how much China has developed hard to wrap my head around until I actually arrive and see it for myself.

We take off for China tomorrow! Before we take off, I wanted to take some time to reflect on what I’ve learned while preparing for this trip. Initially, my reasons for applying for this program, included my personal interest in Chinese heritage and culture. The Innovate program has been preparing me to immerse myself into a rich and unique culture. Through the course, I have new and insightful expectations about China, in addition to previous expectations from family or media. Similarly, I have developed a few goals for myself, pertaining specifically to language and a better understanding of global business. Flying into China with an understanding of my expectations and solid goals will help me get the most out of the ten day experience.

Being Chinese-Canadian, I have a strong connection to Chinese culture and values, which is why I initially applied for this study abroad program. I grew up in a very Chinese community – I speak Chinese at home, ate Chinese dishes every day, attended Chinese school every Saturday, and watched Chinese TV shows. However, I have only visited Hong Kong and Macau, never China. I wanted this experience to bring me back to my roots and enlighten me more about my Chinese heritage. As the first generation born in Canada with immigrant parents, I have always been inclined towards Chinese values and culture. By visiting China, I wanted to visit the root of my Chinese heritage. As well, I wanted to see these values on a larger scale within an entire country, since I have only been surrounded by a mostly Americanized Chinese community my whole life. For example, Americanized Chinese values are usually more liberal in areas, such as acceptable dress, career choices, or gender equality; whereas traditional Chinese values are more conservative with these issues. It will be interesting witnessing the more traditional Chinese values in China’s everyday society and in their history. More interestingly, I wanted to visit the birthplace and setting of all the Chinese folktales, legends and stories that I grew up with. The historical and cultural site visits will be magical, in the sense that it will bring all those stories to life for me. Finally, prior to this program, there was a brief moment in my life where I strongly considered one day working in China. The Innovate program would set me up to achieve that, by introducing me to Chinese business culture on our company site visits, as well as, general culture in common to everyday life. This trip could help solidify my intent to work and live in China one day, which sounds like an amazing and valuable experience.

Moreover, from the readings, speaker presentations, and class discussions, I have developed new thoughts and expectations for what our time in China may entail. Specifically, from “The 1-Hour China,” the megatrends of urbanization and rising Chinese consumers stood out to me, as well as the contrast between urban and rural described in Bennett’s book “Where Underpants Come From: From Cotton Fields to Checkout Counters,” which documents his travels in China. I think I will be most shocks by the extensive urbanization that has transformed China. People may still commonly mistake China to be only consisted of farmland; however, this is no longer the image of China. I remember my first visit to Hong Kong when I was twelve, driving out of the airport and being utterly amazed at all the enormous high rises outside my window – they were nothing like anything in Canada and the US. I expect to get the same awestruck feeling in Beijing and Shanghai. I have only heard from my family and in class of the immensity and power of urbanization in China. Similarly, I think I will be surprised at the modernization of Chinese society. For example, in class, we heard about the massive four story Starbucks and Forever 21 stores. This isn’t the stereotypical image of China, but I’m excited to have my expectations blown away. Moreover, the rapid increase of Chinese consumers with growing disposable incomes makes the everyday consumers just like the people in the US – they enjoy shopping at the same stores as us and eating the same foods and treats. I think it will be interesting coming to terms with the fact that people there are just like the people in the US. I find the entire idea of how much China has developed hard to wrap my head around until I actually arrive and see it for myself. Finally, I am looking forward to witnessing the contrast between the massive urban cities and the beautiful untouched natural areas in China. From the book, “Where Underpants Come From: From Cotton Fields to Checkout Counters,” readers follow Bennett’s travel to urban supercities to completely rural farmlands, a real life juxtaposition that amazed me. There has been incredible development in some areas such as in Beijing and Shanghai; however, there are still many significantly underdeveloped areas. I know we won’t be visiting specific rural villages, but I’m hoping to see a little bit of that contrast it from our bus or train rides. Similarly, I’m excited to see the contrast in lifestyle in China. Relating it to the idea of ying and yang, I’m excited to see the serenity of seniors gathered at a local park doing Taichi right next to the hectic and bustling traffic of the city, as mentioned in Bennett’s travels to China about crazy taxis and reckless driving. I think that would be interesting to see because in the US, you usually see only one or the other.

Furthermore, my personal goals are focused on improving my Chinese language skills, gaining a better understanding of Chinese business culture, and making memorable connections with those I meet in China. I learned Chinese as a child and spoke it at home regularly, because I lived with my grandma, who did not speak English. My family speaks Cantonese primarily, but I attended Mandarin school every Saturday until high school. I can speak, write, and read, but my conversational Mandarin was hugely improved by watching Taiwanese TV dramas with my mom and sister. One of my top goals is to practice and improve my ability with the Chinese language. I am more comfortable with my Cantonese than my Mandarin. I may be nervous to use my Mandarin initially, but I’m confident that after that, the practice will greatly increase my confidence with the language. As China becomes a greater global player, the Chinese language will become increasingly important in business for building relationships and negotiating business deals. Next, gaining an understanding of Chinese business culture is really important to me because this experience could serve as the impression of China on which I decide if I would enjoy working or living there in the future. I would first want to observe the lifestyle of Chinese people, specifically in Shanghai, the business hub of China. Chinese lifestyle is personally more important than business culture because that influences both my professional and personal life. With that being said, I would still make careful observations at company site visits, noting their business culture. I recognize that there may be very distinct difference from American business culture, since I understand general Chinese core values are very different from those of Americans. Finally, I’m excited to create friendships with the Chinese students meeting us in China. Because they are a similar age to us, they are a valuable link to Chinese culture. We’ve gone through the same stages of life, but probably have had very different experiences. I think getting to know them would be a very personal and unique way to learn about life in China. In addition to the fun memories we would make with them, they could also potentially be important connections for us in the future, when we enter the work force, and vice versa.

I can’t wait to see the majesty of all of China in its urban cities, history, culture, food and language. There is so much diversity packed into the word “China” – so much to see, experience and learn. Ten days isn’t enough to explore all of it, but it’s a start.