Atharv Gupta | May 20, 2021
Responding To: Georgetown Students Reflect on Virtual Exchange
Communication, Culture, and Content
Like many other students who have experienced events over Zoom, I was a little hesitant at first when it came to this series of online dialogues. One central through line was not produced as these meetings were with three different Chinese Universities, and each time we had to adapt to the unique situations, knowledge, background, and opinions of our varying counterparts. I feel that my experiences during these meetings can be best categorized under the themes of communication, culture, and content.
Given the pandemic, the normal in-person series of dialogues was pivoted to an online platform. This pivot gave us (participants) an increased level of creative control when it came to how best to shape these talks. We were able to transform these conversations from the first meeting, which followed a formal negotiation style format with designated talking points and structured presentations, to the final meeting which centered around a more casual open discussion between students aspiring to value personal anecdotes and perspectives over media headlines. For example, the most engaging of the dialogues, at least in my experience, was with our counterparts at Peking University (北京大学) where we adopted a more personal approach through the use of breakout-rooms which allowed for a more focused and productive experience.
Another important takeaway from these talks was not the opportunity to discuss international politics, but rather the chance to have genuine conversations with our Chinese counterparts and get a better understanding of them as students and as people. This theme of understanding was especially apparent in our discussion with Peking University (北京大学), where we focused on a more first-person approach; this allowed us to get to know the students themselves. The sentiments actively shared by a number of the students reflected the idea that any of our differences can be resolved over a few drinks--because at the end of the day we are all human. While I do not condone underage drinking, the fact of the matter is that through dialogues like these we can have the opportunity to view issues from different cultural perspectives.
In the final two meetings, we began to employ Q&A’s to guide our discussions. One of the best questions to come out of this format change, in my opinion, was “where do you get your information regarding the U.S. and China?” This question proved to be extremely informative as it allowed both sides to confront the underlying biases which come from the consumption of modern media. For example, during our discussion of the #IsupportXinjiangCotton movement in China, one of the people in my breakout-room seemed unaware of the reason why American brands stopped sourcing cotton from Xinjiang. Our discussion caused the student to want to seek more information about this topic, so as to be more informed about what is going on in that region.
Despite the constrained time limit, these dialogues were worthwhile and an important way to exchange ideas and deepen our perspectives on students in China.
Will Foster (SFS'23) is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service majoring in Regional Studies with a focus on Asia and a minor in Chinese.
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