Educating Myself and Others
My first month or so in China was rough. Although I kept up a happy and successful facade for the sake of cooling the worries of my friends and family back at home, I was struggling. Every time I set foot outside, I faced what seemed to be a restless audience dealing with a terrible comedian; everyone stared at me. However, when I think back I realize that these people were simply not educated about my people. And it saddens me to say this, but all the wrong impressions and prejudices that were held by the majority of Chinese were accurate, in my estimate. There was an article that I received from my study abroad advisor that spoke of a huge drug bust in Beijing. Dozens of people were beaten and arrested. The one unifying trait that these drug users and dealers had in common was that they were black. If you were Chinese, with already a limited number of blacks around in your native country, what would your impression be of blacks after reading an article like this?
Having said this, I recognized how much influence I had on the minds of the Chinese people around me; I was an ambassador. There are so many opportunities and roles that need filling in this great country. Blacks are no where to be found in the ranks of the many successful foreigners in China. I decided to be that man. I truly believe that if one is willing to put the effort in to effectively communicate in the Chinese language, as a foreigner, the opportunities are endless. The Chinese people have limited exposure to the outside world and are yearning to learn what’s out there.
On a personal level, I have undergone many changes. For starters, I have definitely learned how to step out of my comfort zone and meet people. I have met a multitude of fascinating people, from all walks of life, and I know that none of this would be possible had I kept to myself. I am also reading more than ever. Journals and newspapers such as The Economist and The Wall Street Journal have become a daily ritual for me. I enjoy waking up everyday and reading about the events that are shaping the world around me. Prior to going to China, I knew it was important to stay up to date, but I never really stayed consistent with my reading. Now, whether it is American politics, the chaos in Kenya, or the economic struggles facing our world, I can actively and confidently discuss these topics and many more. All of this is because I have become more aware of the world around me. I don’t live in that “Southern California bubble” any more. I can now look at things from a global perspective.
As much as I had originally intended to go to China for language acquisition, my paradigm shifted. I now understand that studying abroad is not only about discovering the world, but more importantly, discovering one’s self. I truly believe that if more people spent time abroad, the world would most definitely be a better place.
Billy is currently writing a book (in Chinese) called ‘Journey to the East’, which chronicles his experience in China. He is also a Deputy Editor for the USC magazine US China Today. After graduation, he plans to work in African - Chinese trade.