Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Hosting Tang Jun from Tsinhua University

Going out to a bar, partying, or just watching a movie was not on my agenda this past Saturday night. I had agreed to host a student from China for two nights, and he was arriving on a train from New York at 11:30pm. A group of student delegates from Tsinghua University in Beijing had come to the U.S. to take an educational tour of cities on the East Coast. They were scheduled to visit and talk to security advisors, think tanks, and economists during their visit to the Sates. One of the things on their to-do list was to participate in an event at the Elliott School co-hosted by both the Organization of Asian Studies (OAS) and the Global China Connection (GCC). It was a busy weekend for the Chinese delegates.
While the group of us host students waited for the group of Chinese student delegates, I thought about what my assigned student would be like. Someone had shown me a picture of him with his information beside it listing all of his accomplishments and accolades. The paper informed me that Tang Jun is the former vice president of the Tsinghua Student Union. Attending Tsinghua University is a big accomplishment, but being an officer in the Tsinghua Student Union means that one is being primed for a high position in the Chinese government. To give an idea of scale, China's current president, Hu Jintao, was once president of the Tsinghua Student Union. Given this information, I naturally started to think that Tang Jun was either going to be a nerdy Chinese student or a spoiled brat.
The group finally arrived and both GWU students and Tsinghua students engaged in the obligatory act of awkward introductions. Students from Tsinghua stood on one side of the room and introduced themselves one by one, and then the GWU students reciprocated the protocol. My friend Chris explained it as being like a middle school dance with the girls on one side and the guys on the other, each too shy to break from the group and get close. I could not tell how the rest of the weekend was going to turn out.
Tang Jun turned out to be neither a nerd or spoiled brat. He was an extremely polite guy and genuinely nice. This was his first time in the United States and he was fascinated by the cultural differences between here and his home. Some of the differences that grabbed his attention the most were numbered streets, dormitories, and the lack of walls around the perimeter of universities. He was also amazed by the stories he had heard of drunken escapades at night clubs and wanted to know if they were true. I told him that night clubs were indeed chaotic, but people left them to pass out in the street only once in a while and not all the time despite what he had heard. The American college experience did amaze him, though, and he was determined to come back to the US for grad school.
Although Tang Jun was in the U.S. for about only a week and in DC for only two days, he swore that his English speaking skills had improved immensely. I did not doubt him. After spending a total of only several hours with him, I felt my Chinese speaking level go up about half a point. We really helped each other out.
While saying our goodbyes, Tang Jun insisted that I contact him if I am ever in China. I insisted that he contact me when he returns to the U.S. We said we would treat each other to dinner and show each other the cities we live in the way locals would see it. After the two days, I ultimately made a friend.

Devin Foil
4th Year Asian Studies Major
GWU Elliott School of International Affairs

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