A U.S. education expert, speaking with China.org.cn on the sidelines of the 2015 Beijing International Forum on People-to-People Friendship in Beijing, believes it will take time and patience for U.S.-China youth exchanges to produce solid results.
David Barrutia, speaks to China.org.cn at the 2015 Beijing International Forum on People-to-People Friendship in Beijing on Nov. 12, 2015. [Photo by Zhang Rui / China.org.cn]
David Barrutia, executive director of World Dream International Education & Exchange, who worked in China for many years and can speak fluent Chinese, said bilateral youth exchanges, interaction and communication "should be handled more carefully" by the two governments.
"That is because, despite all the efforts, the exchange process is still fragile and needs to be protected and cultivated," he said, "Language and culture learning, I believe, is the foundation for better understanding."
Regarding the role the communication and exchanges between Chinese and American students play for boosting U.S.-China relations, he said every country recognizes children represent the future and no other relationship is more important for the future than the relationship between the United States and China.
"Therefore, communication and exchanges between Chinese and American students are immensely important. Of course, there can be differences, disagreements and misunderstandings. And as part of our human nature, within a context of frustration, it is easy to focus on the negative aspects. However, because of the importance of this relationship, we should work together and focus on the positive aspects, for the sake of our common future. That is not always easy."
"It takes times, work and effort. It takes leadership on the part of the adults, which the students see as their role models, both teachers and parents." Barrutia added.
As China has sent more students to the United States than other countries in recent years, the issue of their integration into local American society to become bridges of cultural exchange is somewhat complicated, as not all Chinese students go to American schools for that purpose.
"The increased numbers are a testament to the attraction of American schools and the life-changing effect it can have on students. However, most students go overseas for academic or career oriented purposes, and not necessarily cultural purposes," he said, "Yet, to fully benefit from a new academic environment and be well positioned for future career success, it is unquestionable that cultural learning is an integral part of the education. One great benefit of the increased numbers, however, is the larger support network that emerges once they enter a school."
He continued, "Living in a new country is a big challenge for most new students, and so there is certainly a need for people who share the same cultural background, to help each other. This is not at all a Chinese-specific issue. This is part of human nature. Even in Beijing, you see foreigners stick together, for example in the Wudaokou neighborhood.
"At some point however, this convenience can become a form of dependence. Despite the fact that cultural similarities outweigh cultural differences, it is easy to fixate on the latter until they become an excuse to stay disconnected from the local community."
Barrutia recalled that when he first came to China to study at the Beijing Language and Culture University, he had a close circle of foreign friends undergoing the same new experience. "We helped each other and shared our struggles, which was somewhat therapeutic. However, after a while, I noticed that if I did not take an active approach towards integrating into the local community, I would not fully learn the local culture and language."
"Stepping out of my comfort zone, I can tell you definitively that making Chinese friends and integrating into the local community made my experience in China so fruitful and colorful. It made all the difference in my life. Likewise, I feel Chinese students who study in the U.S. should be cognizant of the importance of balancing their life with Chinese and American friends so they naturally become bridges of cultural exchange."
Barrutia, a graduate of Choate Rosemary Hall and Middlebury College in the United States. earned his Master's degree from the School of Public Administration and Policy at Renmin University of China. He studied Chinese at the Beijing Language and Culture University. He served as Deputy Manager for the admissions consulting department of the New Oriental School in 2001 and was one of the first foreign professionals in the foreign study consulting field in China. He was one of the founders of the Beijing No. 4 High School's international campus in 2012.
Aside from education, he also served as a TV host for Chinese networks from 2005 to 2012, a member of the Beijing Foreign Correspondents Association, a senior adviser for the Children's Museum Research Center of Beijing Normal University, and a Foreign Expert for the National Museum of China. He now operates his own company.
"I am in favor of continued efforts to promote Chinese language and culture learning to American, and vice versa," he said, "It may take some time and patience, but based on a solid foundation, U.S.-China exchanges can flourish. In time, I believe this generation and the next generation will realize that we are actually one family with one home."