Bringing Feelings Front and Center: My Reflections on the Student-to-Student Dialogues
Atharv Gupta | May 20, 2021
Responding To: Georgetown Students Reflect on Virtual Exchange
The experience of participating in the Student-to-Student dialogues through Georgetown’s Initiative for U.S.-China Dialogue on Global Issues was rewarding, eye-opening, and left me with the desire to keep the conversation going.
I applied to this dialogue out of curiosity and in order to take advantage of a college opportunity to extend my conversation on U.S.-China affairs to a more holistic setting. On one hand, this “holistic” medium was satisfied by involving the perspective of Georgetown students interested in the topic through political and economic lenses, bringing in both American voices as well as international ones who provided experiences with China from completely different environments (I fell into this category as well, finding many of my experiences shaped by Latin America’s burgeoning relationship with China). On the other hand, the most “holistic” and differing aspect of this conversation was the perspective of the Chinese students from Fudan University, Peking University, and Zhejiang University. I felt an unexpected wall of assumptions come down when our discussion would vary from quotidian commentary, such as what sources Chinese students use to get news coverage of the United States or whether they like American music (I was surprised to find out that some students from Peking University liked country music more than I did), to more political discourse, such as commenting on the role of the United States and China in global development, technological trade, and so forth. The vast majority of my knowledge and understanding of Chinese culture consistently comes from Western sources, which dramatize the differences of the “other side”. I went into the dialogue dangerously assuming that my age-equivalent peers in China would have a sense of “Chinese exceptionalism” that many Americans have about their own country. Yet, whether it was the certain group of individuals who came into the space with similar open-minded intentions as many of the Georgetown students did, there were no signs of animosity or rivalry that oftentimes villainize the relationship between both countries. The one time that demonstrated contention and a tense divergence of opinions arose on the topic of Xinjiang and the treatment of Uyghurs by the Chinese government. In a Zoom breakout room, the Georgetown side posed the question of what everyone’s take was on the #ISupportUyghurCotton debate, to which a couple of Chinese students responded by saying that a lot of our sources were based on “misinformation”, and that if we were to do our research and ask the millions of Uyghurs about their experience, there would be evidence of “no abuse”. Despite this topic that reflected our disparate opinions on the topic, most of the topics we discussed challenged my expectations that the U.S. and Chinese side would have vastly different and incompatible perspectives. Instead, we found more common ground and battled against the narrative that the U.S.-China relationship is bound to competition and danger.
An incredibly rewarding aspect of this dialogue came from engaging with people who were equally devoted to leading and shaping the conversation to what we felt would generate academic, diverse, and engaging discussions. After each of the sessions, the students would debrief on Zoom to discuss what we liked from the last conversation, what we hoped to hear in future ones, and what “actionables” could help the next session generate even more fruitful discussion. This modular setting allowed us to maximize what we could take away from the dialogue and how we could prove that a student-led environment could make small yet significant strides to sensitize both sides of the U.S.-China relationship. Each session began and concluded with a reminder that being in that space was an opportunity to inspire “bilateral cooperation”, “break up the silence” that often limits our capacity to understand different “sides” of the table, and “share the responsibility” of working in a world where it is becoming increasingly apparent that the United States and China will cause more harm if they are against each other rather than willing to work together on multiple fronts.
My final note with this post, one which hopes to encompass the sentiment I felt was shared by most students who participated in the dialogue, is to emphasize the desire to keep this type of conversation going. This was a reflection of the dialogue appearing to have been successful at its goals to generate discussion yet was only the beginning to what could be more cohesion between college students from the United States and China. After this dialogue, I firmly believe that these connections that can break ideological or cultural barriers are those that can make real differences in many spheres of the U.S.-China relationship. One of the professors from Peking University used the example of how many surprisingly educational and eye-opening discussions can come from mundane and informal conversations, such as talking over a beer when studying abroad. Not only do I hold onto the idea that these conversations with will happen more organically in an increasingly globalized world, but I will also continue to be optimistic that these conversations will be productive in supporting the collaboration between people on both sides who actually want to see a successful and healthy relationship between the United States and China for a safer and more dynamic world order.
Emilia Game (SFS'22) is a junior in the School of Foreign Service, majoring in International Politics, as well as double minoring in Mandarin Chinese and Latin American studies.
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