50 Shades of Grace

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Before this summer, I had never stepped foot outside of America.
Not even to Mexico, which according to Donald Trump, is right in my backyard. In March of last year, however, I was asked to join my fellow choir-mates on a trip to a place that I had never in my wildest dreams expected to go: China. There, we would be a touring choir, traveling from city to city to perform American music for Chinese audiences. As a victim of self-proclaimed wanderlust, I knew that I had to attend. Immediately, images of lush, Mulan-style jungles and fan-bearing geishas popped into my head.

Of course, some part of me knew that my vision of China was flawed. It is the 21st century! China is a world-class economic power! But my Eurocentricity was not truly confirmed until our first scholastic exchange, the day after our riveting 36-hour airport excursion. That next morning, we took a bus to meet with the Xiamen Foreign Language School choir. After some icebreaker games and a beautiful performance on a traditional Chinese instrument, we gathered in groups and started exchanging questions. The session started out like any other: we asked each other the typical inquiries: “What are your school days like?” “What kind of extracurriculars do you partake in?” “What’s your favorite subject?” Some of the answers caught me off guard: one girl took break-dancing classes, automatically making her cooler than any of us Calabasas kids. I then started to notice the interactions between the Chinese students: how they would giggle and whisper to each other, take selfies on their smart-phones, share shy glances with the boys across the room and vice versa. There was something familiar in their movements, something that hit very close to home-I realized that I was not watching foreigners; instead, I was watching myself.

Now, as I reflect back on our day with the students, I understand
that it was wrong of me to make assumptions about the lives of these students. They are no different than I am, because on the inside, we are truly all the same. My trip to China gave me a new perspective on the world: cultural immersion comes from the ability to find similarities between cultures, rather than the differences.

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