[US to China ’15] Beth Lewallen: “Exchanges Create A Better World Inside and Outside Our Borders”

09-02-2015 posted by Acypl
Beth Lewallen (pictured center) with hosts in Xining, China in May 2015.
Beth Lewallen (pictured center) with hosts in Xining, China in May 2015.

On the popular Chinese social media app WeChat, updates shared with friends are entitled “Moments.”  Like Facebook, the “Moments” capture a snapshot of life in China, the thoughts and experiences each user wants to portray.  The term perfectly captures my ACYPL memories: fleeting, life-changing, and amazing experiences that provided information and insight even while hinting at many more complexities below the surface.  While two weeks – or indeed two lifetimes – could not allow me to fully understand life and government in China, they did open my eyes to countless things our countries have in common and demolished stereotypes of what I thought I knew.

After I returned to life in Arizona, the encouragement from those “Moments” stayed with me.  The genuine interactions with citizens in the streets of western China who were unabashedly delighted to see Americans, who rushed to snap photos with us or urged their children to give us hugs.  The street market that united people of many nations around the magic of shared food and experiences, and the choreographed dances that embraced residents and visitors alike in city squares.  The inspiring dialogue that unfolded between our American delegates and the young Chinese political and economic leaders or students.  The friendship tree planted to celebrate a partnership that each participant hoped would continue beyond our short visit.  The hours of discussion on shared concerns, like air quality, education, and energy generation.

Even without shared language, these moments communicated an investment in America and in ACYPL, and a common vision of the future that somehow could exist in spite of significant challenges.  It’s the underlying goal of international exchanges, and the concept that keeps giving as exchange participants move through our careers: moments that remind us our colleagues in other nations, like us, are invested in the belief that reaching outside our borders creates a better world inside those borders.

Beth Lewallen is the President of Italicized Consulting

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