I had the pleasure of hosting 19 women from Shanghai Normal University for the last two weeks, part of a student exchange program sponsored by Bridgewater State and the Minnock Center for International Engagement. There is simply no better way to break down barriers between people than travel and face to face interaction.
During the two weeks that the women were on campus and in the region, I was able to make some observations about their impressions of life here in the United States. For example, on many of the field trips I noticed that the women were looking at the sky. I asked their group leader why? She remarked that in Shanghai the students do not often see blue sky and giant white clouds as they are filtered by the heavy pollution from cars and industry. We are indeed lucky.
I also noticed a great interest in our family structure. In China there has been in place for decades the one child policy that limits the size of families. The students were most inquisitive when they met our daughters and our three grandchildren to see a different family structure. Moreover, they were overwhelmed by the size of our house since with three girls there was a definite need for bedroom space and more than one bathroom. In Shanghai, unless one is wealthy or connected to the Communist Party, housing space is often a modest three or four room apartment.
Finally, when we traveled to the State House in Boston and toured the House and Senate chambers the students were full of questions about political parties, elections and citizen participation. They know that in their country involvement by the people and popular decision-making are almost non-existent. We may complain about our gridlocked system of government but it is far superior to the centralized control that the Chinese experience.
The women from Shanghai have returned home from their visit to Bridgewater State and Massachusetts but I believe they learned a great deal about our way of life and the benefits of living in an open society, free of conditions and restrictions that we take for granted.