Putting Aside What’s Comfortable to Do What’s Meaningful

If you speak Chinese, this video that came across our Twitter feed today is well worth watching. An American Fulbrighter in China, Daniel Tedesco, speaks (to an audience including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and State Councillor Liu Yandong!) about the challenges of building connections in another country.

“…too many of us spend time mostly with our country-mates,” he says.  “It’s easy for a Chinese student in the U.S. to eat Chinese food and go karaoke.  It’s comfortable for an American in China to eat pizza and hang out in cafes.”

He explains:

Spending time with local people throws us into a world of potential misunderstanding. We struggle to explain simple things. We don’t know when to laugh at jokes. It’s often hard just to keep up with the conversation. We might look silly and get laughed out.

But concludes:

Chinese and Americans abroad are putting aside what’s comfortable in order to do what’s meaningful. And we’ve reaped big rewards for doing so.

A single friend can change an experience abroad. A few more can change a life. But a great many can fortify and enrich U.S.-China relations for decades to come.



If you don’t speak Chinese, you can read the full English translation on speaker Daniel Tedesco’s website, or read an excerpt below:

My American friends were going out and asked me to join them.  It would be comfortable, fun, relaxing.  We would speak English and discuss our favorite sports teams.

Should I go?  Every day, American students in China and Chinese students in America face similar choices.  And too many of us spend time mostly with our country-mates.  It’s easy for a Chinese student in the U.S. to eat Chinese food and go karaoke.  It’s comfortable for an American in China to eat pizza and hang out in cafes.

Spending time with local people throws us into a world of potential misunderstanding.  We struggle to explain simple things.  We don’t know when to laugh at jokes.  It’s often hard just to keep up with the conversation.  We might look silly and get laughed out.

There is no quick fix.  Building real, trusting relationships takes time.  So instead of going out with the Americans that night, I met Chinese friends for dinner