Spending two weeks in a city and being expected to dissect its entire culture is an impossible feat, and one that I will not boast about accomplishing- or rather, attempting. However, spending two weeks in Beijing allowed me the tiniest of glimpses into the life of the Far East. And it is these experiences, however trivial they may be in the grand scheme of things, which allows me to participate in this wonderful exchange of culture and friendship.

I hoped for the best, but still mentally prepared for the worst. I prepared myself to be shunned, to be regarded as different, as inferior because I was an outsider, a lurker. Instead, I was invited into private dwellings to eat meals with local families. I was introduced to classmates, childhood friends, and even loved ones. As an American, this sounds like any given day, but intimate details of the personal life is an aspect that many Chinese never bare even to each other. Maybe it was the novelty of being American that acted as a catalyst during many conversations between East and West, but whatever the cause the final reaction was always the same: “I can’t believe I said that. I have never told anyone that.”

The culture may be different but the people are the same. Families are glued together by love and are made up of the same players; only, perhaps in America the teams are quite larger- in weight and in number. And while the name of the game is constant, the rules differ between hemispheres. Hierarchy between key players is a major aspect of every realm in China, and while hierarchy in political or corporate environments is very much needed, a social hierarchy is a dissolving illusion that is continuing to evaporate with each passing year stateside; but it is something that continues to dictate social interactions for the Chinese, and I do not see that changing any time soon.

Many things I experienced were different, and different is good. I take pride in knowing that every new person I meet will either confirm or transform my way of thinking and viewing the world. And while, I have not fully adopted Daoism or Confucianism into my everyday interactions, I do appreciate the teachings they inspire. The principles on which these philosophies were formed are completely embedded into every aspect of Chinese culture, and more noticeably their businesses. Corporations’ highest duty is to the people; the government is a close second, but even The Communist party is affected by the ancient proverbs.

All in all China is colorful. It’s full of shades and hues that many never conceived possible to radiate from such a mysterious land. It colored me with surprise, filled me with passion, and left me in awe of city filled to the brim of caring and intelligent people. Some of whom I am proud to call “friend”.

Categories: 2014 Trip

The two weeks I spent in China have absolutely changed my life. Experiencing China’s unique culture and learning about its rich history has opened my mind and taught me how to interact with people from different cultures more than a lecture in a classroom ever could. My favorite part of the trip was getting to interact socially with people who were born and bred Chinese. Because of their culture, they see the world completely different than I do, yet we all find common ground as people. For example, Chinese people do not have deep conversations with people they have just met. One of our guides Wen spent a lot of time around us as a group, and she commented that we offered up, in her eyes, extremely personal information about our lives that she might not even tell her close friends. We, however, were joking and telling personal stories after only knowing each other for a week. We told Wen about the game Hot Seat, where each person has 5 minutes on the metaphorical “hot seat” and must answer any question that is asked in that 5 minute time span. She was horrified that we played this extremely personal game having only just met each other. This is an extreme case, but the differences in types and depths of relationships was evident in daily life in Beijing.

Chinese politics have great bearing on the country’s culture. The Chinese have a saying that goes, “the bird who sticks its head up gets shot,” meaning that anyone who does not conform puts himself in danger. This saying accurately expresses how Chinese politics shape the lifestyle of its people. The government controls everything, from businesses to banks to the number of kids each family is allowed to have. Because the people believe that dissent will be punished, they do not question nor discuss opinions that do not align with the government’s agenda. In America, children are taught the importance of freedom and liberty and are encouraged to develop their own beliefs and opinions. Independence and individualism are heralded, and discussion about controversial topics is usually welcome. This was the biggest and most noticeable cultural difference I saw. This has a huge impact on how business is done also, since creativity and initiative would be considered against the norm. Chinese workers do only what they are told, but do it consistently and correctly. Workers are loyal to those they trust, but will not produce growth within a company on their own. American companies who hire Chinese employees have huge barriers to overcome in this aspect, since the American way is to constantly try to come up with new solutions and do things better than before. This cannot be an expectation the company has when doing business in China. Instead of creating new ideas internally, Chinese companies have been known to “borrow” ideas from successful western companies. Protection of intellectual property and prevention of insider trading are extremely important for western companies to consider when doing business with the Chinese, as their culture does not view this as stealing. Negotiations are significantly different with Chinese than westerners as well. The Chinese people place extremely high value in keeping their cool at all times. They do not disagree with each other outright like Americans do. They will beat around the bush in order to “save face”, and if they are disrespected in negotiations they will immediately stop doing business with that party. Extremes are always avoided, both in business and social settings.

The number one thing I have learned since leaving Texas 3 weeks ago is that the world is much bigger than I ever imagined. There are 7 billion other people that I am sharing the world with, and the southern, American bubble I experienced for the first 20 years of my life is an almost insignificant percentage of that. My ideology is only one out of billions; there are billions of other ways of thinking, expressing, relating, working, dreaming, and succeeding that I cannot even fathom, and none of them is inherently right or wrong. Our increasingly integrated world depends on diversity of thought and being able to overcome the obstacles it presents. In no way has my time abroad come close to giving me the solutions to these problems, but it has sparked in me a desire to search for them. To China: thank you for welcoming me with open arms and showing me a glimpse of your heart; you will always hold a special place in mine.

To the other 7 billion humans out there: I’m coming for you.

-Kristin Cooper

Categories: 2014 Trip

My time in China has officially ended. I have grown in many ways over the past two weeks. I will split this last blog post into four parts or subject areas that I will reflect upon: business, economic, social, and political.

As a business student, I was ecstatic to be studying the business environment in China. It is a well-established fact that China has been and will continue to be a powerhouse in the global market. China is the most populated country in the world. The amount of purchasing power its people have is mind-blowing. As someone who dabbles in entrepreneurship, the opportunities seem endless. Of course, one must study the culture and environment carefully to succeed. Luckily, that was exactly what I was doing on this trip. I will keep an ear and eye out for business happenings in China for the rest of my life. The odds are that one day, probably sooner than later, a great opportunity will present itself to me. This all being said, the business environment was almost alien to me. So much is reliant upon factors that are irrelevant in the United States. From quasi log-rolling activities to the “virtue” of conformity, there is so much that I never knew or even guessed at. To quote Napoléon Bonaparte, “China is a sleeping giant. Let her sleep, for when she wakes she will move the world.” Anyone who overlooks or underestimates this great nation will be left behind.

The line between business and economics is often blurred so I will speak briefly on the matter here. My overall feeling after learning of Chinese economics is gratitude. The United States is a wonderful place to live in many ways – one way is economically speaking. The amount of instability, government control, and corruption is something that is unsettling to me. For most people in China, it is a struggle to survive financially. And despite being a socialist state, inequality is still very high. I have a greater appreciation (but not naively so) for the theory of a free-market economy. Once again, my mind is opened to new ideas that I was perhaps previously wary of. On the positive side, things are very cheap in China. Even things that are of higher quality. The group would go out to a high-scale restaurant and we could eat for about $4 each! And we all left satisfied. It was great. Goods and transportation are also comparatively cheap. Of course, wages are much lower here so that is something to take into consideration.

The social aspect of China was blatantly different. The previous two subjects were more subtle and required some studying – not so for Chinese society. The first thing I noticed was how much people liked us. We were asked to pose for pictures with brothers, daughters, mothers, and friends. We felt like celebrities! This was a nice, and perhaps shallow, aspect. But the downside to this was that this treatment was seemingly exclusive to foreigners. The Chinese did not treat each other with too much respect. It is a part of their culture. It is uncommon to trust those who are not in your family (or those who are considered family). But there is an interesting paradox. The culture is communal but only within each respective community. The communities (or families, friend groups, etc.) can be hostile to each other. This is seen little things like getting on the subway or standing in line. Elbows will be thrown and the weak will be cast out or behind. The younger citizens also tend to be pretty shy while the older does not. Males tend to travel with other males and females with females. The exception is couples of course. Back at Texas A&M, my friend groups tend to be a solid combination of both. Our student volunteer, Wen, was surprised that we all hung out in one room together (all 10 of us!). It was an interesting contrast. One aspect I liked about the Chinese social culture was reverence for older people. I feel as if people in China love and care more for their oldies. I, for one, love old people. My grandparents and were and have been very close. The little Chinese babies are also very cute and funny! Onesies often have a butt-flap that is undone whenever and wherever the child needs to poop – gross! Regardless, I lol’d. This would not be allowed in the U.S.

Politically, this situation is also strikingly different. The U.S. is dominated by two parties and has been criticized for its lack of options. But China only has one. The Communist Party of China. They control the government and have so for several decades. Once again, I am very grateful to live in the U.S. Of course the U.S. is not perfect, money has a huge influence on public policy but at least the people still have a fighting chance (whether that chance is diminishing or not will be left to another blog post). In China, the people are subservient to the government. Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter are banned here. Censorship also strikes me as scary and 1984-esque. Of course it can be argued that in the U.S. power is still situated in the hands of few, just like in China. Perhaps the elite class’ subtle control in the U.S. is all the more dangerous than the blatant control in China. Only time will tell.

To close this blog post out succinctly, I’ve been much too verbose thus far, I’d just like to thank my sponsors and Texas A&M for this amazing experience in China. I am returning with stories and lessons to spare.  My perspective and life have truly been changed for the better. I will come back to the U.S. a wiser and better person. I am ready to come back to air conditioning, my family, my Meredith, Dr. Pepper, regular toilets, League of Legends, and my Aggie family. One day, I will come back to China – that much I promise. Until then, God bless and Gig ‘Em!

 

In Him,

Eduardo Zaldivar

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Categories: 2014 Trip

After spending two whirlwind weeks in the massive city of Beijing, I realized that I needed to sit down and come up with a blog post to explain my experiences and everything I encountered during my time there. To complete this task to its entirety would be quite the feat because of the abundant amount of culture that was thrown my way 24/14. I will attempt, however, to inform you to the best of my ability what I have learned these past two weeks.

I spoke a little bit in my first post about the differences in culture between the United States and China. In the post I discussed how the Chinese would not even approach doing business with someone until they have formed a relationship. I found this practice very interesting because in America, business relationships often come after the initial transaction occurs. The fact that the relationship must come before any transaction is an indication that the Chinese carry Guanxi, or relationships, to their business practices. Relationships and building trust are some of the most important parts of everyday life in China.

Another topic we discussed in depth was the “Opening Up” and Reform of the Chinese Culture and economy starting in 1978. This period marked a shift to socialism led by Deng Xiao Ping of the Communist Party. During this period China opened its borders to allow foreign competition and investors into the country, growth of a private sector and made agriculture decollectivized. The Chinese Stock market was created in 1990 and a Socialist Market Economic Reform policy was introduced in 1992, giving more power to people and reducing state control in many industries. We also learned about some of the major drawbacks of this reform, including a resource and environmental bottleneck, a central state government that cannot pass laws quickly enough to catch up with the needs of its ever-growing population, and an increasing income disparity.

We also learned some of the intricacies of everyday life in China. One thing that stuck out to the group immediately was that the Chinese do not drink much with meals. We were provided with one teacup that held about an ounce or two or tea every meal and tea with every meal. Another key thing we noticed was that many young people in China love American culture and try to do everything they can to be a part of it. Many of our guides tried to dress like Americans, watched American sports and television shows, and tried to speak with our lingo. It was so fascinating to learn that people want to be like us!

Having two weeks to learn from Chinese professors in a Chinese city was the perfect way to begin learning how to do business in China. We were able to learn from incredibly intelligent professors who taught us about Chinese culture and behavior. In order to be successful in business in another country, one must learn about the culture first and be open to making compromises. In many cases, American companies have tried to come into the Chinese market and failed because they do not try to learn about the Chinese culture or market first and are not open to being flexible. Now that I have learned a little bit about the Chinese way of life, I would feel comfortable doing business in China.21

Categories: 2014 Trip

It’s hard to believe two weeks in Beijing is already over! On one hand it feels like forever since I first arrived in Beijing, but looking back, the past two weeks flew by in a flash. It’s still surreal to think that I’ve spent two weeks in China because I still feel like I barely know anything about it.  However, one think I know for sure is that all the expectations and stereotypes I arrived with have flown out the window long ago. I initially pictured Beijing as a fast-paced, bustling city full of mandarin-speaking people rushing from one place to the next. While Beijing certainly can be fast-paced at times, this wasn’t the case for the most part. The people of Beijing seem to lead a life full of hard work, but stress doesn’t seem to exist.  Everyone is always walking at a leisurely pace, enjoying their time outdoors and ignoring the cloud of smog overhead. To be fair, most of our time was spent on a college campus, so it’s tough to say what Beijing is like outside the life of a college student. However, if college students are any indicator of the rest of the citizens of Beijing, I am amazed at how well they are able to handle stress and transition from hours upon hours of studying into a relaxing game of soccer or dinner with friends. In the US, I see so many students, including myself, carry the stress of finals into all aspects of their lives. In Beijing, each segment of life seems to be entirely compartmentalized. Even more amazing to me was how generous and selfless the culture of China was. Several of our volunteers would spend half a day or even more guiding and translating for our group only to go home to pull an all-nighter for exams the next day. Not to mention, each time we ate together it was a battle for the check. Even though there were ten of us and only one or two volunteers, they continually insisted on paying for the entire group’s meal.

Overall, Beijing was an incredible experience. There are certainly downsides of the city like the crowdedness and pollution, but these things are more than made up by the amazing people that make up the city of Beijing. I don’t think I saw an angry person the entire time I was there. Given the chance, I would go back in a heartbeat. In fact, this study abroad program has made me much more interested in finding a job where I could do business in China. To find a career that would allow me to continue to explore the incredible country that is China, and hopefully many other parts of the world as well, would be a dream come true.

Categories: 2014 Trip

China was a wonderful experience and I am so glad I had the opportunity to participate in this program. I was pleasantly surprised by not only how much I learned but also how much fun I had. I wish I would’ve been able to stay longer.

One of the first things I noticed about China is the economy. Specifically, I noticed how inefficient the economy could be at times. Don’t get me wrong; the Chinese economy is massive and extremely powerful. The government, with it’s ability to control the economy, can accomplish great feats in a very short amount of time in a way that very few other countries, if any, can. However, the downside of government control is a lack of competition. When the government is the majority shareholder in most major companies, there are no incentives for companies to compete. Without significant competition, there is no need for corporations to be efficient with their business practices.

The political environment is another stark difference between China and the United States. China is currently in a major transition phase. However, it is still significantly different from the United States. China has a significant income disparity, which has led to a large income gap. College students, when they graduate, struggle to get jobs adequate for their qualifications. There is corruption among the government and the wealthy elite. The truth is China is being built at the expense of the common man. Although the people have many more freedoms than they used to, they are still being taken advantage of. China may be growing at an incredible rate, but they could be in a difficult political position if the people begin to feel like they are being oppressed.

I was expecting the people of China to be very different than the people I know in America. I was very wrong. The young people of China love America. I saw more English words than Chinese characters on the clothes of the students around campus. They watch American TV shows and listen to American music. Chinese students are very in tune with American pop culture (as well as American politics). Many of them have visited or plan to visit the United States. They loved talking with us and taking pictures with us simply because we were American. This has very interesting implications for the future relations between our two nations. Aside from our mutual interests in American culture, Chinese people were truly just normal people. At first they seemed a little distant, but once you built a relationship with them, they were extremely friendly. One of our volunteers even cried when he was giving us goodbye hugs as we were leaving for the airport. In this moment I realized that humans are humans, regardless of what language they speak or where they come from.

In my two weeks in Beijing, I learned so much more about business than I expected. One of the most important things I learned is when you try to start doing business in another country, you have to do your research into the local business environment and you must be willing to adapt. In China, there is a very large emphasis on relationships in business. Chinese people are hesitant to trust new people, so it is important to build that trust in the form of a personal relationship before business decisions can be made. Also, In China, you have to constantly watch your back. The ancient Chinese philosophy of Daoism emphasizes patience and harmony. What this means is Chinese people will avoid direct conflict and may not be transparent with their intentions. China is a market with a lot of great potential, but foreign businesses need to make sure they are very careful and patient with their investments to be successful.

As a whole, the China portion of this trip has been fantastic. Going abroad has opened my horizons and shown me the whole world is not like Texas. Southern hospitality does not exist everywhere, so sometimes you have to be aggressive in order to survive. Outside of the United States, lines are for suckers. Nobody is going to wait for you. From this trip, I have learned that you have to take care of yourself and you have to be smart about what is going on around you. The world is a fascinating place full of knowledge to learn and adventures to experience, you just have to go out and take them.

Categories: 2014 Trip

What a whirlwind! I’ve experienced more in these 2 weeks than I ever imagined I would. I’ve learned more about the Chinese culture and doing business in China than I thought was possible in a 2 week period. I’ve eaten more Chinese food than a person could possibly dream of eating. I’ve seen my fill of ancient Chinese temples and relics. I’ve muscled my way through many a “Ch-english” conversation. And I’ve made some lifelong friends along the way.

Living in China for 2 weeks was definitely a step outside of my comfort zone. I experienced the biggest culture shock and language barrier I think I’ll ever encounter. You can tell that China is a developing country, but you can also tell that it is in the midst of becoming developed. And fast. From a business perspective, it’s obvious that China is becoming a frontrunner. Their business practices were foreign to me at first, but they make sense given China’s longstanding reverence for Confucianism and Daoism. I learned some valuable lessons about negotiating and doing business in China. The biggest shock to me was that negotiations in China often take up to a month at first- giving room for you to gain trust from the interested party. From an economic standpoint, China is strengthening its standings. China is very quick to learn lessons from what works and doesn’t work for other countries. It’s pretty obvious that China has come a long way politically. I was shocked, still, by the amount of involvement the government has in businesses. The banking system, for example, is still largely run by the government, with some of the banks being 100% owned by the government. I noticed the biggest divide between home and China in the social perspective. One example in particular stood out to me. The Chinese don’t really believe in individualism. They believe in keeping your head down and getting the job done. They also associate as groups or clans or families rather than as individuals. We discussed it in class, but I noticed it even more outside the classroom. The people don’t smile or wave at strangers on the street. They keep to themselves and go about their own business.

While many of these things seemed foreign at first, I feel like I’m getting the hang of things. Getting used to breathing in the smog. Getting used to not smiling at every person I see on the street. Getting used to the Chinese way of Tai Chi. Getting used to gaining trust first instead of just becoming instant friends. Getting used to being a foreigner who isn’t so foreign anymore.

See you agian soon, Beijing!

-Alyssa DunnIMG_8158 IMG_8419 IMG_8526 IMG_8671 IMG_8622 IMG_8523

Categories: 2014 Trip

The business environment in China is so different from that in the U.S. When learning about guanxi I was really surprised to find out that in China no business is done during the trust building phase, which lasts about a month. After that comes actual business, which is a speedy process now that the relationship has been built. In America, each step lasts about the same amount of time and the process is overall a bit longer. I can see the pros and cons of both methods, but I think I would need to experience both to determine my preference. With the American style, I would find it consistent and objective. On the other hand, it could involve doing business with someone who is almost a stranger that you have to give the benefit of the doubt. In the Chinese method, there is time and effort put into getting to know the potential business partner and it’s a bit of a speedier process. On the other hand, I feel that there is a lot of subjectivity and room for favoritism as well as having to deal with wasted time and money if the deal does not go through.

What stood out to me the most economically was that China was moving towards a free market. All I knew about China’s economy beforehand was that it was a communist country, so I assumed that meant complete regulation by the government. One example from class that stood out to me was regarding WeChat. I didn’t expect the government to refuse assistance to the big three telecom companies when WeChat became so popular, but I think it was a good decision. A free market would allow for highly demanded products and services such as WeChat to succeed while at the same time pushing companies such as the big three to stop being complacent and to compete at offering better options.

Despite noticing some differences initially, people are still people and I feel that there are a lot of social similarities. For example, even when we were being tourists and taking lots of pictures of everything, native Chinese were also doing the same. Like us, they also eat both Chinese food and McDonalds, wear popular fashion trends, and can be rowdy in groups. They also use cell phones regularly and hang out with their friends and play sports. I think this is one of the reasons why we got along with our volunteers so well: underneath some differences on the surface, people are actually more alike than we often expect.

People’s political attitudes were what caught me off guard the most. In America, we’ve generally been taught that communism is terrible and that Mao Zedong was a large part of why that’s a case. As a result, it was really unusual to hear people speaking well of him. For example, I didn’t personally experience this but another member of the study abroad group would say something about Mao to a shopkeeper and receive something along the lines of “Oh, Honorable Chairman Mao” as a response. Pictures of him could also be found on merchandise, and while they were respectful ones in China I don’t think that would be the case in America. The Chinese people’s attitudes were the complete opposite of what I expected. It felt like this was because they focused on the positive results of his actions rather than the negative ones, which is something we rarely do back home.

Being there in person is a learning experience that cannot be replicated in any way, and I’ve gained so much in only two weeks. I would definitely love to go back one day to learn more and to see how things have changed since I was last there.

 

-Nightingale Dam

Categories: 2014 Trip

When I had first arrived in China, I assumed that aside from the language barrier, the country would be very similar to the West in terms of social and business culture. Despite China being such an urbanized and industrial country, my first impression was completely wrong. Despite some similarities, there are many differences between China and the West in terms of business, economics, society, and culture.

How business is done in the West and in China are completely different concepts. In the West, and especially in the USA, business is done quickly and thoroughly. Many business negotiations are started almost immediately, with all parties trying to end it as quickly as possible in their own favor. In China, businesspeople will wait at least a month the first time they attempt business negotiations. That first month is dedicated to trust and relationship building, complete with dinners, parties, and general conversation. Only after that month do the two parties decide to begin or not begin negotiations. While this process definitely takes more time to complete, it builds better relationships between businesses, ensuring higher chances of success and quicker negotiations in later deals.

There’s only one major difference in terms of economic structure in China and in the West. The West is run by a free market, regulated mostly to prevent the growth of monopolies and stifling of competition. China is still run by a command economy, though it is moving towards a free market. However, unlike the West, government regulation is heavy, and in some cases promotes monopolies. Many of China’s largest companies are either owned jointly by the central government (i.e. Beijing Hyundai) or entirely by the state (i.e. Yanjing Beer).

The social and cultural aspects of China are very intertwined. Due to the culture of Daoism, many people in China are very conformist. There are very few people who truly and openly stand out. Unlike the West, which supports individualism, people in China promote a more collective image, where the group comes before all, while individuals earn a more quiet success. That collectivism also leads to a lot of people being far more reserved in their emotions and demeanor to outsiders, as opposed to the West where we are far more social, even with people we don’t know. Nevertheless, communication still happens, and one similarity between the two cultures is that we are willing to work together to achieve common goals, and are both willing to at least attempt to build trust and relationships with the other culture.

There were so many differences between the West and China. Some of them were subtle, some were blatant. However, they were all adaptable. After taking a few days to adapt, life in China became much more comfortable, and I could breathe easier (literally and figuratively). All in all, I had a lot of fun in China and I learned a lot. Without a doubt, they were two of the best weeks of my life.

Cheers,

 

Patrick Celsus

Categories: 2014 Trip