Atharv Gupta | May 20, 2021
Responding To: Georgetown Students Reflect on Virtual Exchange
Bridging Differences and Finding Commonality
As a part of Georgetown’s US-China Student-to-Student Dialogue, I was eager to meet students from three different Chinese universities: Fudan, Peking, and Zhejiang University. Going into each discussion, I was excited for the opportunity to listen to perspectives that were different from mine across a wide range of political, economic, and development related topics. But also, as a Chinese American, I came into these conversations eager to learn more about Chinese culture and bridge the two halves of my identity together. Each of the three conversations were unique in nature, spanning a wide array of different topics. However, reflecting upon my experience, I found that two themes seemed to resonate throughout all the discussions.
Perhaps the most important takeaway is that these dialogues served to clarify misperceptions and facilitate greater political and cultural understanding across both sides. The perceptions that we each had of the United States and China were largely informed by news, media, and entertainment consumption. However, recognizing that each outlet has its own biases and even misrepresentations, these dialogues served to better our understanding of each other. In smaller breakout rooms, some Chinese students were interested in clarifying their understanding of American 2nd amendment rights, while some of us on the Georgetown side were curious to learn more about China’s role in global development abroad, particularly through technological pursuits. As important as these discussions were for exchanging political ideas, they also facilitated cultural understanding too. One Chinese student shared his experience staying with a host family in the United States – his time in the U.S. was quite a culture shock and learning experience. But for me, these dialogues served the same role. I left the discussions surprised by how much I had learned about China’s cultural and political landscape, and how much there still was for me to learn.
Second, discussing social media platforms and popular culture helped students find more commonality with each other. Finding common favorite TV shows and singers helped build greater empathy with the recognition that we were all students with similar interests. In turn, this paved way for finding commonality on other fronts. For example, some of the students noted that the U.S. and China had similar end goals: domestic poverty reduction, technological advancement, and global development abroad. From my own understanding of U.S.-China relations, it’s always easy to assume the United States and China are competitors with contrasting policy agendas. But these dialogues helped me understand that there was commonality to be found. While the notion of competition versus cooperation was a common point of discussion, these dialogues underscored the importance of bridging differences by finding commonality and building cooperation.
Ultimately, I enjoyed all three conversations, and each of them emphasized the importance of dialogue in the role of U.S.-China relations. These exchanges enabled us all to build empathy, find commonality, and clarify our own perceptions and misperceptions of each other. I left each dialogue with so many new perspectives and hope that these dialogues build a stronger foundation for mutual understanding between U.S. and China.
Nadine Lin (SFS'21) is a senior in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University pursuing a major in Global Business.
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