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China has given me an international perspective

February 22, 2011

I complain a lot on this blog.  I often complain because I find it’s easier to write something funny when I focus on negatives. I think all my complaining has distorted the way I present my experience China. Sure, there are plenty of things I don’t like about living here, but there are also plenty of things I love.

One of the best parts of living in China so far is that it has transformed my perspective from national to global.

I am an American girl through and through, and my interest in global affairs for the first 21 years of my life was minimal. I had little interest in learning foreign languages. I barely cared about international news headlines. My only experience was in the USA, and everything else felt so distant. All my closest friends were American, too, so I had no social ties to any other place.

Embarking on this adventure has forced to see how much more there is to this world than the US of A. Most obviously, I have learned a ton about China – Chinese language, Chinese culture, Chinese geography. I can name tons of Chinese cities you never heard of, and I’m aware where they are geographically, what kind of food they eat, how wealthy they are. I could talk to you for hours about cultural differences between Westerners and Chinese with regard to social practices, business etiquette, internet habits, and much more. I actually have a pretty decent grasp on a LOT of things about China.

But it’s not just China. By living in Shanghai, I’ve become so much more aware of Asia, of Europe, of South America, of Africa. Part of this heightened interest comes from my job, for which I must be up-to-date on the news all the time. I read the international news now, not just the US news, and it actually matters to me now, even when it’s not directly related to the US or to China. For instance, the sovereign debt crisis in the European Union would have meant next to nothing to me if I hadn’t moved to China; but I follow the crisis in the news, and I read avidly about how the various possible outcomes would have worldwide repercussions. I actually care!

Another reason international stuff finally matters to me is that I’ve been meeting people from all over the world. Shanghai is so international. I’ve made friends with people from England, France, India, Denmark, Norway, Canada, Malaysia, and, of course, China. These places have taken on a new life for me through the people I’ve met. And I see now, so much more clearly, that America is not an island. America is tied to all these places, as is China, and world is getting more and more tangled up.

I won’t go on about “globalization” here (I’ll leave that to Tom Friedman), but I will admit that escaping my own American tunnel vision and gaining a more global outlook  is one of the most valuable things that I will take away from this adventure.

… See? Complaining is way more entertaining.

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