When traveling abroad, you will often be confronted with new experiences, beliefs, values and opinions of your host country. What Brittany, a WorldTeach China volunteer, was not prepared for, however, was the way in which traveling abroad would influence thoughts about her home country of America. Here she reflects on the notion of "guanxi" and how America could take a lesson on human relationships from the Chinese. 

Guanxi literally translates to “relationships”. In China, this is a central idea, it is the basic dynamic in personalized networks of influence. In sum, it can describe a connection between two people, in which one person does a favor for another, with the silent agreement that the other party will return the favor at some point. Since I have arrived in Rongjiawan, I have experienced this idea of guanxi on a daily basis. This idea of guanxi caught me at a time when I was becoming pessimistic about human nature, and it has resulted in a rekindling of my optimistic nature.

Example #1: Miss Yao

Miss Yao is a fellow English teacher at my school. I have mentioned before, she has helped me navigate my way through the wet market during the process of buying fruits and vegetables. Every night that she is free, she calls me and asks me if I would like to go shopping for more fruits and vegetables. When we return to my apartment, she explains which method of cooking I can use tonight. Her main concern is that I am not getting enough nutrients. Without her, I would be eating scrambled eggs every night. I recently learned how to cook sweet potatoes in a rice cooker while I steam my rice. For those who don’t know, this makes your rice sweet and flavorful. It was delicious or as we say in China hen hao chi.

Example #2: TanHui

TanHui is what I would consider my closest Chinese friend here. She is also an English teacher at my school. She is 28, married and has a daughter. Her English is amazing. She reads novels by the author Sophie Kinsella, she wroteConfessions of a Shopaholic. We have come to the agreement, that I will help her with her oral English and she will help me learn Chinese. Without her help, I do not know which direction my Chinese language skills would currently be going in.

Yesterday, we went out to lunch for a colleagues birthday. After lunch, TanHui invited me back home to ‘take a rest’. In China, it is very common for people to ‘take a rest’ for an hour or two after lunch. This ‘rest’ turned into 4 episodes of the American television show ‘The Good Wife’, as well as an invitation to join her entire family for Mid-Autumn Festival lunch. Mid-Autumn Festival is a holiday that is celebrated on Monday in China, during this holiday school is cancelled and families gather and eat a type of pastry called a ‘mooncake’. Before leaving her home, I was given a bag of instant coffee that makes 50 cups, a bag of instant milk tea, and two books by the author Sophie Kinsella that she insisted I must read. Did I also mention that I was invited to meet the parents of one of my students because of her? This turned into an interesting meal with 10 or so Chinese people that spoke ZERO English. My ability to play charades has gotten quite good since my arrival in China. This meal would not be complete if I did not receive a gift from my students parents, a pack of cigarettes to thank me for my diligent work as a teacher. After dinner, I was asked to accompany TanHui and her parents to Yueyang city, a half hour away. Once in Yueyang, we visited her Aunt and Uncle’s home. They insisted that I could not leave their home without two beautifully wrapped ‘mooncakes’ and a bag of freshly dug up peanuts. As I went to get into TanHui’s car, I noticed her Aunt had two bags, which seemed to be moving. I looked closer only to notice that there were two chickens in each bag. I was informed that these were for her grandmother. Needless to say, we all know the fate of these poor four chickens that were placed in TanHui’s trunk.

Finally, after a 12 hour adventure, I was dropped off at my apartment. Back in my apartment, I took some time to think about the adventure that I had experienced during the day. I had a revelation where I realized how lucky I am to be here with these people. I came here looking to impact the lives of students with dreams of learning English, never realizing I would meet people who would change my perspective on human nature. Not only have they changed my perspective on human nature, but they have changed the type of person I want to be. The Chinese people I have met during my time here, have welcomed me into their lives and their homes with open arms. They take the time out of their packed schedules to teach me Chinese, take me shopping for fruits and vegetables, and teach me to cook, not only because they fear I will become homesick and lonely, but because they wish to form new friendships.

This makes me wonder, if Miss Yao or TanHui came to America to teach Chinese to our children, would we take time out of our busy schedules to give them the same warm welcome? Sadly, no. I think America could stand to take a page or two from the Chinese people’s idea of guanxi.

Interested in building your own relationships in China? Click here for more information! 

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