With the travel course completed and my time in China drawing to a close, I can say with confidence that both my character and skills have grown immensely from my first real experience abroad. The full immersion in another culture, from trying new and exotic foods (looking at you, chicken feet and snake), to sharing stories with the locals, gave me a new insight on the inner workings of China, and the people that drive its advancement.
The history of China is long and complicated, but seeing its great accomplishments of the past still standing and cherished as traditional and cultural relics acts as a testament to China’s respect of its storied history and its commitment to the values that dictated Chinese society centuries ago. The Temple of Heaven was an awe-inspiring sight, and people could be seen practicing Tai-Chi and meditating as locals and tourists alike marveled at the spiritual energy and dominating presence of these ancient structures. The Jade Buddha Temple in Shanghai granted a similar experience, albeit a less crowded one, as I witnessed Buddhist monks in meditation and surrounded by impressive and intricate statues of all their deities. While visiting the cultural sights of Beijing and Shanghai helped me better understand the history behind China, it was the company visits and interaction with Chinese students that gave me greater insight into the culture and society that dictates Chinese life, and how this carries over into business, both domestic and international.
The Chinese are a very high-context language culture, and much of their communication is left unsaid, supplemented by tradition and gestures instead of vocalized. This was seen by the importance of providing gifts when meeting with clients and assigning high respect to your superiors. Another interesting component of their business culture is the concept of guanxi, which simply means relationships in Chinese, but encompasses a much broader spectrum of actions that define interactions between people. Under guanxi, saving face is important, and controversial or inappropriate topics are often avoided, as to not create conflict with whoever you’re talking to. This can lead to some trouble when dealing with US businesses overseas, as the US is very blunt and forward, and will approach problems head on, no matter the discomfort it may cause others.
Overall, I’ve gained new understanding on what it takes to do business internationally, and the effect that different cultures can have on consumer preferences and a company’s ability to effectively communicate and do business.