[US to China 2013]: Natalie Joubert: “Reflecting on my ACYPL experience”
It’s been two years since I traveled with ACYPL as part of the delegation to China, but the experience remains one of the more remarkable, fascinating journeys of my life. I dined with millionaire business executives, met with leading Communist Party of China officials, and toured ancient cultural sites – from the Great Wall to the Yuelu Academy. What sticks with me most is not these exotic, otherworldly experiences. Rather, I’m still captivated by how similar we all are, a lesson I learned through the friendships I developed while in China. The profoundness of this continues to inspire me.
As ACYPL delegates, we all have a passion for politics and policy, and we were sent to China to share our economic, cultural, and political views. Not surprisingly, much of the organized discussion during our trip focused on how different the United States is from China. Economic policy, human rights, and environmental issues were frequent topics addressed in our meetings with Chinese government and business leaders, and there are clear differences between the U.S. and China when it comes to these matters. The people we met sometimes communicated their views in ways that allowed me to better understand the history, culture, or other factors influencing certain policies, and therefore be more sympathetic to their position. Other times, our debates simply ended with an “agree to disagree.”
When the formal meetings concluded and the long bus rides commenced, I spent hours talking with our All-China Youth Federation (ACYF) hosts. Oftentimes our conversations turned to the ordinary. We talked about dating, finding an affordable apartment, dealing with Monday morning traffic, and other less wonky topics. Their daily routines seemed similar to mine, as were their aspirations – financial stability, a rewarding career, and healthy, happy family and friends. In many ways, my Chinese hosts were experiencing life and all its ups and downs in the same ways that I was.
I believe that by sharing these common experiences, we became friends. I remain in touch with my ACYF friends, and I’ve been fortunate to visit with them during their visits to DC. I am planning to return to China one day to meet them and their families.
Going into this journey, I expected to learn more about myself and my country by examining the differences between China and the U.S. What I didn’t expect was to come home amazed by how alike we are. There are many intractable differences between China and the U.S., but these didn’t prevent me from finding commonality, and even friendship, with many of the people I met in China. I’m hopeful that if we can first acknowledge and appreciate the similarities between American and Chinese peoples, we could more easily bridge solutions to our differences.
Natalie Joubert is an Associate at Booz Allen Hamilton.