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China: No Substitute for Being There

Posted by: Lee-Ann
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Recently, the Sloan 2012 class went to Shanghai, China to complete an international assignment.  I was thrilled to go as I’d never been to China and it had always seemed very exotic and inaccessible to me.   Although excited to see China, I was unconvinced it was necessary for the assignment.  After all, I’d found tons of information on my subject in the library, in class and online—the environment and its impact on the economy.  As it turned out, though, this was the very best part of the trip—seeing and hearing about the subject for myself.  Much has been written on the topic, but speaking with experts living and working in China added a personal dimension I could never get from academic papers or from trade journals.  Even better, those we spoke with showed a surprising amount of candor and openness I was not expecting.  I grew up in an age of wariness about China, its human rights and its perhaps menacing global motives that gave me a sort of black and white film view of China.  During my time there, though, the movie turned to full color.

I’d been told that Shanghai is not really representative of the real China.  I saw this for myself.  Everything there is big, big, big.  The buildings are tall and shiny, the roads wide and sweeping, the container port massive (and built in only 1.5 years!) and the bridge to the port so long we were over water for a full 30 minutes.  Big, big, big, just like the economy.  On the other hand, though, I saw some very homely things.  On my first morning there, I woke up early and decided to walk on the (very wide and very long) shopping street near the hotel.  There were no stores open, but I saw hundreds of people.  Why?  They were dancing!  Some dancing traditional Chinese dances, some be-bopping to pop, and yet others cutting a rug to country and western.  Who knew?  This is a way for many Chinese, especially the older ones, to get exercise.  I was enchanted by the whole thing.

The people in the class had different observations on the trip, with highlights varying for each.  For me, seeing it in person, and interacting with people in a variety of stations and positions made the trip worthwhile.  The picture of China in my mind’s eye has altered forever.

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Now that’s a blog Ritu! Obviously, my new Sloan BFF (read: my co-author) knows how to do this ‘blog thing’…which quite frankly, scares me to death!

Putting myself out there on social media, and just being open about myself are not things that come naturally to an ex-US Air Force officer, but Sloan is teaching me… boy is it teaching me.  Learning to be self-aware and stepping out of our comfort zones are watchwords in the program.

The word ‘naked’ (see, I would never have thought to use that!) is incredibly apt.  Never have I, or (I would imagine) the rest of the class exposed our inner thoughts and desires to people we have known for such a short period of time, but that’s just what has happened.  Heck, I haven’t talked this intimately about myself to people I’ve known most of my life!  And surprisingly it’s been a liberating experience, even comforting! We’re all coming from the same base of uncertainty, so it just doesn’t seem so hard.  Even team-building exercises (for me, it was acting in a play—I was Margaret Thatcher, although I sounded more like the Queen) that just months ago I would have absolutely hated, have seemed, well… fun.

It’s thrilling to do this journey with the 51 other wonderful people–people I study with, party with, and just hang out with.  We have a way to go, but the “crash of Sloan 2012” has propelled us a good way ahead already.  Even though I haven’t cleared away the fog that’s been surrounding me for years and figured out where I’m going from here, my friends and classmates say they can see things for/about me I can’t see for myself yet.  I can’t wait to see what they see—the rest of the year has such promise!

Yes, the Sloan will celebrate me!

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