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2021年5月20日

Responding To: Georgetown Students Reflect on Virtual Exchange

Bringing Feelings Front and Center: My Reflections on the Student-to-Student Dialogues

Atharv Gupta

Coming into this year’s Initiative for U.S.-China Dialogue on Global Issues Student-to-Student dialogues, I was prepared for rigorous political debate, challenging questions that pushed me out of my comfort zone, and heated conversations on contentious issues. I believed that these dialogues would mirror the current fiery state of U.S.-China relations. Instead, what I found was much different.

There was certainly no shortage of discussion on challenging issues in current affairs. From the genocide of Uyghurs in Xinjiang, to trade and technology policy in both countries, we discussed complex issues and learned from one other’s perspectives. However, I was shocked at how human-centered our discussions were.

Time and time again throughout the dialogues, we shared our best ideas when we returned back to the human element of it all. When my American peers discussed their personal fears and experiences around the threat of climate change. When our Chinese counterparts discussed their fears seeing the rise of hate crimes against Asian Americans in the United States. It was these topics that led to actual breakthroughs, as opposed to abstract discussions that felt like the recommendations section of a think tank report.

After all, the value of dialogue efforts like these are in bringing us face-to-face, sharing the infinite nuance that so often is absent in the media. As simple as it may seem, I was reminded that China is a vast country as diverse as any other, including the United States. Having grown up in the suburbs of Northern Virginia, there’s little I can say about life on the West Coast, or in the South, or really anywhere else. I was reminded that our Chinese peers possess the same limitations, and that we cannot expect any one person (or article) to paint a full picture for us.

My favorite element of the dialogues was our discussion of international development with students from Peking University. I shared my frustrations about the current state of U.S.-China relations as it pertains to development, and how a field which is meant to focus on uplifting people has turned into another arena for competition. I described my concerns that both countries solely care about developing countries as opportunities to win influence against the other. The conversation that followed surprised me -- the Peking University students agreed, expressing that while the U.S. and China may have different outlooks on the path to development, both paths may be valid. Thus, our countries should seek to build stronger relationships globally on the basis of those ideas, rather than by demonizing the other. We discussed whether altruistic development is even possible at the international level, and what other avenues there are to pursue these goals, such as non-profits and international organizations. At the end of the day, though, we all held the same core values and belief in development.

I came to Georgetown to study U.S.-China relations. I am greatly appreciative of opportunities like these, which help me look beyond narrow worldviews which feel entrenched in Washington, D.C. As a Chinese minor, not only do I love learning the language, but I also appreciate learning about culture, Chinese history, and perspectives. Programs like the Student-to-Student dialogues are absolutely essential to these goals, and are crucial for students like us to mend the ever-fraying relationships between our countries.

Atharv Gupta (SFS'23) is a sophomore in the Walsh School of Foreign Service, pursuing a major in Science, Technology, and International Affairs with a concentration in Business, Growth, and Development, as well as a minor in Mandarin Chinese.


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