I'm sure you've done it, I know I have. Asked a Chinese friend or colleague what stood out to them if they had a chance to visit your home country. I enjoy hearing what stood out to them or to friends who have visited me in China. Their impressions help me to see afresh the places I care about.
If you've had the privilege of living in a foreign country, you know it's different than visiting it. More and more Chinese are able to travel abroad, but it is a rare opportunity for scholars to get to live in a foreign country and rarer still to have their spouse and child live with them.
I currently live near such a rare opportunity. Denver University hosts numerous visiting scholars from all over China. Some come for a semester, others for a year, and many are able to bring spouse and child, enrolling their children in American schools. I asked a group of 16 visiting scholars and their spouses what stood out or surprised them about life in the U.S. Having lived in China, I thought I knew what would stand out to my Chinese friends after living in the U.S. for an extended period of time. Their answers reminded me why it's good to keep asking questions and not assume!
I've combined their answers into 10 categories and share in no particular order:
1. Most of the things in the shops are made in China. Even in the tourist stores in Santa Fe, the trinkets were made in China! I had no idea of this before I came to America.
2. Americans can make necessary items such as food and clothing at such low prices. I have been surprised at the low prices and the way American businesses have systems to lower prices. With so much government involvement in China, there are not as many systems to lower prices.
3. The relationship between humans and nature is encouraged and I've seen animals around. I live near a public park that was established in the 1890's! A related comment: It is quiet in Denver.
4. It is easy to do many things in the U.S. that are more difficult in China, such as enrolling my child in school and getting a drivers license. In China you need to buy a good apartment near a good school, in America you can just rent or live near a good school.
5. Hospice and palliative care is good in America! The social workers are very nice and the hardware of facilities is of high quality.
6. The culture of a university is different between America and China. Much more so than I expected. Here, the president is not such a special person and people in the government don't have positions at the school.
7. I was surprised by the number of churches in a neighborhood and the size of playgrounds for children at school.
8. Because their children were enrolled in schools, there were quite a few comments related to education.
- Many things about American education are not what I was told in China as I got ready to move here.
- America is a paradise for kids (I'd heard this, and it is true!). I've never seen a child begging in the U.S.
- American teachers are more strict than expected. My child's classmate was punished, I didn't expect this.
- High school is not so easy!
- Every time I see a school bus I am moved and hope Chinese kids will be protected in such safety.
- My daughter is in elementary school and the first class there was an article about human rights.
- There is not as much homework in elementary school as there is in China.
9. I thought I understood the government of the U.S. But after visiting the capitals in New Mexico and Colorado, the government is much more limited than I understood. All three branches can fit in one building!
10. Random observations: soccer is not so popular; I was shipped a product that was out of date (this happens in China, I did not expect it to happen here); and dessert is really sweet.
If you've lived in China for any amount of time, I'm sure parts of this list did not surprise you. But, I'll admit, as they shared and I took notes, a few of these caught me by surprise. I wouldn't have thought to talk about some of these items (I admit not being emotionally moved by school buses) and would have missed the chance to have a significant conversation. If you have friends, colleagues, or students who are able to travel (or live) abroad, take the opportunity to talk about aspects of life beyond the weather or food. Most of us want to talk about deeper parts of life but don't know where to start. Hopefully this list gives you a few new ideas to add to your repertoire!
Photo Credit: Shenzhen Standard