Global China Connection: Building the Student Bridge Across the Pacific
- Columbia University student Gavin Newton-Tanzer is President and Co-founder of Global China Connection, the world’s largest student-run non-profit organization dedicated to building bridges between China and the international community. He is the next generation of China experts who have more in mind than business objectives.
Because students are introduced to another culture before they are tied to doing deals, they are free to make friends and explore uninhibited by constraints of a job.
The Global China Connection is a platform for students and professionals to develop global connections through events, internships, delegations. The students focus on having an open mind when learning about each others' cultures. Many members are already English/Chinese bilingual or learning a second language. Global China Connection has a network of members across the United States ad has begun expanding the student network into Greater China.
For more information on Global China Connection please visit http://www.gccglobal.org/
: I would like to thank Gavin Newton-Tanzer, a mover and a shaker among the student community, founder of the Global China Connection. Gavin, tell us what is the Global China Connection. How did you think of it? What does it do?
: Thank you Janet. Global China Connection, 全球中国联接, is the largest student organization dedicated to building bridges between China and the rest of the world. So most of what we do is based on developing student leaders in the United States, in China, England, Australia, France, etc, and providing them with the very opportunities they need to collaborate and develop the various skills that they need, obviously in the future, if they’re participating in business, politics, anything along those lines. More or less this kind of gives them the opportunities to develop friendships. Specifically, right now we have chapters at the top universities in the United States and China that develop a number of exchange programs. These individual chapters have engaged in a number of activities on their own, including a number of initiatives, our Harvard chapters working on sustainable development initiatives. Our McGill chapter is engaged in a number of philanthropic initiatives and that obviously is spread out among the various university chapters. Additionally we also host a number of events every year, including a conference that’s held in New York once a year, as well as one that is held in China once a year. Last year it was at Peking University, this year we hope to have it at Xinhua university this August, as well as a conference held at Columbia University here in April. The following two, obviously, are going to be held at the United Nations in 2011 and will be held in Shanghai 2011 as well.
The final major initiative taken by GCC is student delegation - student leader delegations. That will be a collection of students from the top universities in our GCC chapters, again like international chapters, then the international student leaders – rather the Chinese student leader from the student government of the top Chinese university. What’s so critical about this is this group of people that are more or less in position, just by the nature of the time their own commitment, to lead this century. I mean, everyone’s talking right now about the G2 – the Sino-US relationship that’s becoming absolutely critical. The only difference we expect to see is that when we have these people that are actually going to be participating in this kind of a relationship they’re going to have already known each other for 10-20-30 years. And hopefully in the future that will allow the boundaries and the difficulties between the two cultures to slowly break down and turn more into a friendly relationship.
: There’s a definite correlation between comfort and confidence in working across cultures and direct experience and length of time in working across cultures. No question about it, the cultures of the west, kind of symbolized by the extreme by the United States, and of the east, symbolized by its currently most powerful nation, China, are extremely different. So catching people when they’re younger and at a time that we’re in right now, where there does seem to be really valid reason to draw the line. When I was a major in Chinese history in the ‘80s everybody just thought I was eccentric. Nobody was studying Chinese then. But it makes a lot of sense now.
Your website is http://www.gccglobal.org/
. Who do you want to join, and what can people bring to your organization to make it stronger?
: Right now GCC is predominantly focused on cultivating youth leaders. Now, youth leaders are generally high school students and college students at a variety of universities and high schools, basically anywhere, whether they’re in China or abroad. The kind of people we’re looking for are basically anyone with a centralized interest. Someone that is really looking to see the gap between China and the United States - China and the rest of the world – kind of break down and basically develop the bridge between two nations. Right now we pride ourselves in breaking down of the original cultural barriers that used to exist in the United States. For instance, at the various universities you’ll generally find a Chinese student organization run by Chinese that operate in Chinese. And when I say Chinese I mean mainland China. You would often find another student group that is completely separate run by an American born Chinese or foreign born Chinese, also operated in Chinese. These individuals would be Chinese cultural activities etc, and the final organization would be run by foreigners that would obviously be conducted entirely in English and obviously take a very external approach to Chinese international relations, politics, finance, etc.
In contrast, GCC Central Management and GCC as a collective organization encompasses approximately 1/3 mainland Chinese; 1/3 foreign born Chinese, or American born Chinese, or Canadian etc born Chinese; and then 1/3 foreigners that are anything from Caucasian Americans, from Japanese to Korean, etc, and all of these people collectively share a common interest in that they’re really trying to develop between China and the rest of the world, as well as pursue a variety of different career interest that are going to somehow fall into that collective group. Now the big thing is you have to be willing to work a number of different people. We are very much stress a tolerance in regards to language background. Most of us, if we don’t speak both languages are learning both languages. So for example Chinese spend a great deal of time learning English and what are foreign born or even Chinese background are all spending a great deal of time and effort learning Chinese language. Most of our activities are bilingual. It really celebrates both cultures, but more than anything else we’re looking for a modern form of cooperation and a modern form of development between the two groups that really focuses on cultivating the collective international citizen type identity.
: Right. And I think no matter where you are on the bridge or how you got there, whether you came in from a Caucasian who spends a lot of time and has a long standing passion for China, or you’ve come later to the game as a Caucasian who’s learned about China later in life rather as an American born Chinese, or a Chinese national who’s coming into the larger world. Everybody’s got a valid perspective. We do need to be together. We see the necessity of appreciating each other’s perspective, how we came to them, and learning from each other. After all, if nobody points out where our blind spots are we’re blind to them. And breaking down the barriers is good work. You just gave a talk at the UN. Would you like to tell us about that?
: Actually my discussion at the UN is similar to the kind of discussion I also provide as a guest lecturer here at Columbia University and a few other places. Basically it’s a discussion about how youth leadership is really revolutionizing the current approach to US-China relations. Not to mention what techniques foreigners can use as they begin to integrate into Chinese culture and that includes everything from approach to Chinese language as much as an approach to Chinese business etc. We’re getting to the point where the cooperation between the two countries absolutely has to be beyond learning just a few words of Chinese or a few words of English, or having a basic consideration of understanding of the other culture. It really requires kind of more symbiosis. It requires a much deeper understanding of the various thought processes and cultural background that allow a much deeper understanding and much deeper form of cooperation moving forward. And that’s something in necessary everything form industry to government etc. And I do think that’s something you said before is only possible with time. It can only happen if a friendship is cultivated before any other form of interest exists. We’re not going as business associates or government representatives with agendas that have already been imprinted on our purpose of visiting. We’re going as students when we visit the various countries, universities, business, etc. And so that opens a great deal of doors. We have the opportunity to go with open minds, with open thought, without any very serious considerations or biases toward any one side. And so what that really means is that we can begin to form objective opinion based on a much larger set of consideration. It also means friendships that aren’t based on mutual interests or concepts or desire to use the other person. Rather we can form friendships really just on the basis of enjoying each other’s company, or the various opinions or discussions etc, which is absolutely critical. Later when you want to do business together, when you want to solve the world problem together, if you have that foundation of friendship, the possibilities are truly unlimited.
: I think I agree with you entirely. It’s good work that you’re doing. The students are the future. We need desperately to integrate more directly and with greater confidence and comfort across this big cultural gap. I know that it’s been my life’s work to understand this and I know how I understood China after 5 years of living in country, 10 years, 15 of living in China, after 18 years of being a daughter-in-law to a Chinese family, I think my understanding – and then having left China and coming back to the United States and having the reverse culture shock, and seeing again from the other perspective what was different, what was the same, the evolution of describing what is different not in terms of behavioral or superficial manifestations, but what is different at the level of values, what are the commonalities how to appreciate and get through them and get past them. It’s an evolution and it’s good to start it young. So with that, we hope to see a lot more of you, Gavin, and all of your Global China Connection members. Keep up the good work. Let your members know that everyone in the China business world is rooting for your success
: Thank you Janet.