A recent spring break study abroad trip to China made diplomacy come alive for me. We visited the American Embassy, American Chamber of Commerce, Disney's Shanghai headquarters, a private foundation, a think tank, a startup tech company, a university, a news outlet, two museums, the famous Alibaba, and International Department of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee. How many people can say they spoke with the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee?
Our days were jam-packed. From the wonderful cultural experiences to the organizations we visited, there was never a dull moment. Even the bus rides were full of fun and excitement.
We were also treated with so much respect. I felt like an actual diplomat. We not only represented ourselves, our families, and Seton Hall, but also the United States. During one of the meetings with representatives at a think tank, we were asked questions and our answers were written down. Our opinions were taken seriously. I felt very important, as if my presence mattered, and may have possibly made a difference. It was a great lesson in diplomacy.
There is a major difference between the learning that takes place in a classroom and actually visiting another country and applying those skills.
We heard from the various members of the different organizations we visited. The experience gave me another perspective -- at the end of the day we all want the same things. We are all human. It's hard to separate what we know about a country through the news (which is tailored to us in a specific way) and the actual people of the country. Sometimes we forget a country and its people are two separate things. Through the dialogue we had at these organizations, I easily came to that realization.
Our visit to Shanghai International Studies University, the School of Diplomacy's partner institution, was my favorite part of the trip. We got to hang out with students in our major. I'm in touch daily with one of the students I met. On another day, we ended up running into some of the students at a museum. They joined us on a shopping excursion, which made the experience 1000% better. Meeting our Chinese counterparts really showed that we have so much in common. My friend and I spent 30 minutes talking about Taylor Swift and her music, and the greatness of the color pink. We have more in common than not. The only way to know this is from interactions and dialogue.
The cultural experiences were out of this world. We walked along the Great Wall of China, which was unforgettable. We visited the Forbidden City, which was full of so much interesting history. We visited our professor's friend in her actual home! And we ate authentic Chinese food every day. We had a full emergence in the culture and learned things that we could only learn by living in a country.
I went to China not knowing too much about the country, aside from the economic aspect I learned in my classes. There is so much more to China and its people than economics. I went into the trip with my own opinion of the country, but now I can say my opinion has changed. Visiting a country and meeting the people there is just so different than talking about them in a class or watching a simple news clip. I am definitely going back. I would not trade this experience for the world.