It was my honor to accompany the founder of NFTE, Steve Mariotti, and a group of NFTE student alumni and associates to China in November of 2011. As a two-year NFTE teacher in the Bronx, I was familiar with the NFTE program in the New York Metro area but had no idea what to expect in terms of how it was implemented in China. Little did I know what an incredible treat awaited me abroad!
From the very minute we landed in China, to the very second we departed from Beijing's enormous airport a week later, we were met and accompanied by our translator, tour guide, and great friend Betty. My initial impression of China could not help but be one of pure delight with one such as Betty in our midst. A tireless Bright China Foundation (BCF) worker and one of the most naturally generous and giving people I have ever met, Betty embodied the beauty and grace inherent in many of the Chinese people I met during this incredible trip.
It was Betty who taught us how to navigate through the traditional Chinese family style meals, with many savory delicacies being shared around a circular table (and not an egg roll in sight!). It was Betty who showed us how to walk the Great Wall of China and lift our arms in wild abandon at its majesty and grace. It was Betty who taught me how to stand firm and bargain down the ridiculously priced tourist trinkets at the exciting Silk Market. Finally, it was Betty who, with the gift of language, helped me communicate with the Chinese students and teachers whom I came to China to visit in the first place.
And yet, there were times when my understanding of China did not necessitate any translation. My language deficiency did not hold me back when I saw each student take to the stage with pride and courage during BCF's Business Plan Competition. I understood the hard work that went into each business plan when I examined the props and products that each student displayed to supplement their power points. I was awed by the strength and vigor that I heard in the voices of these young people. Perhaps the moment that touched me the most was when I communicated, with hands and gestures and good will, with a BCF business teacher directly following the student competition.
While we did not speak the same language and could barely complete a sentence in the other's language, this teacher and I were somehow able to communicate our joy in this glorious day, our pride in our respective NFTE/BCF students, and our delight at meeting a kindred spirit despite all cultural and geographical odds. It was in that moment of "speaking" with this Chinese teacher that I realized why I was brought to China...
I was more than a representative of Bronx Aerospace High School's NFTE program, and I was more than an ambassador of NFTE's New York City Metro area. At that moment, I became a representative of the United States who was finding joy and happiness in sharing a beautiful experience with my new Chinese friend. There were many such tremendous and moving moments throughout my time in China, but this is one moment that truly taught me the importance of cross-cultural education and sharing.
I am so grateful to Steve Mariotti and NFTE for bringing me to China. I am grateful to Betty for teaching me the beauty, grace and dedication intrinsic in so many Chinese people. I am grateful to the BCF students for delighting me with their business ideas and inspiring me with their resolve. I am grateful to my new BCF teacher-friend for showing me that actions, quite literally, speak louder than words. Finally, I am grateful for the young Chinese students who agreed to become email penpals with my own NFTE student, Jorge Reyes, in the Bronx, N.Y.
I thought that the ripple effects of my visit to China would end once I said goodbye to Betty and beautiful Beijing on the day of my departure. But now, with Jorge and a few enthusiastic Chinese students in constant correspondence, who knows what lasting bonds and great innovations our young people will create with one another in the future!