Abroad in China: the most important thing I learned

People always ask me questions about China, but they all ask the wrong questions.

They ask how the culture is different, what weird foods I’ve eaten, what I miss about the USA. These are all valid questions, but they don’t touch on the ONE MAIN thing I’ve learned while abroad, and the one question NO ONE has asked me:

How are Chinese people and Americans the same?

Of course, China and the USA have some cultural differences. I wouldn’t be here if they didn’t. But, after experiencing a different education and family culture, eating stinky tofu and and missing Mexican food everyday for a year, I found the answer to the most important question.

They’re not so different from you and me.

China has drunks, perverts, drop-outs and swindlers, and so does the USA and every other country.

The USA has devoted parents, loyal spouses, high-achieving students and humanitarians, and so does China and every other country.

Chinese children pose for picture family girls
Two adorable Chinese children pose for a picture

For the last 9 months, I’ve seen millions of Chinese people living their daily lives.

They curse the traffic on their commute to work.
They trip over their untied shoes.
They hold their kids’ hands when they cross the street.
The children compete for their parents’ attention.
They write notes on their hand so they don’t forget.
Teenagers spend the holidays glued to their smartphones.
They laugh. They cry.
They work. They play.
They dream.

They’re not so different from you and me.

Chinese men playing board game Beijing culture
Chinese men playing board game

They want to make their parents proud. They want to love and be loved. They want to provide for their children’s futures. They want to find meaning in life.

They’re not so different from you and me.

I wonder what the world would be like if we focused more on our similarities instead of our differences.

How would we treat people differently if we looked at them like we looked at our own mothers, brothers, teachers and neighbors?

Old Chinese couple on bus China waiting sitting shopping
Old Chinese couple on bus

Guess what their favorite color, movie or childhood memory is.
Think about their children who think they’re superheroes.
Imagine their parents love them just as much as yours love you.


They’re not so different from you and me.


  1. guess the difference are the upbringing and beliefs which was in-grain into us. =)

  2. Great post, I think that’s a terrific observation.
    I found the same thing to be true in Germany. Of course there are differences, but you miss out on so much when that’s all you focus on. When you look at how similar people are, it makes adjusting to the differences in culture that much easier!

  3. Lovely post, and it’s so true. You might be interested in a book I read recently called something like ‘Chinese Whispers – why everything you thought you knew about China is wrong’. I found it such an interesting read because not only did it teach you more about China when debunking the stereotypes, it also looked at the historical context in the West to explain why such sterotypes came about and how we projected our views on China. (honestly not a promoter)

    Somethings which seem like big cultural differences aren’t always. E.g. we don’t need to financially provide for our parents to the same extent always in the West because we can rely on the state to a larger degree. This doesn’t mean we necessarily care less about family. We are too quick sometimes to point to culture as an explanation for why people do things differently in other countries and leave it at that, rather than to look at how different practices come about.

    1. Oh, very interesting! I’ll look into it. Thanks for the recommendation!

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