The end of last week made me very anxious. No, I didn’t have another Chinese literature project or statistics test. Instead I was about to attend the Committee of 100’s 25th Anniversary Summit in New York City. My overnight plane was delayed by four hours, so in order to make it to the summit on time I had to squeeze into pantyhose and business attire while being jostled back and forth in a New York taxi. As I slipped out of my running shoes and into high heels, suddenly the panic that had been building up all week reached its height. What place was there for me at this conference among individuals with so much more experience and knowledge than me? Why would they want to have anything to do with me? I was worried I’d make a fool of myself and say the wrong thing at the wrong time or offend someone through my actions.
I almost climbed back into the taxi to head home, but then I remembered why I was there—to expand my horizons, learn more about China, and to reconnect with the Pengyou network that meant so much to me. I had to go on, despite my fears. The instant I stepped into the reception area of the summit I was enveloped by the other Project Pengyou Leadership Fellows in a frenzy of hugs and excited chatter. My fears slowly dissipated. I wasn’t at this intimidating event alone: I have friends from all across the country there to experience this with me, stretching our boundaries to learn and grow.
With new-found courage, the morning went by in a flurry. We checked in guests, sponsors, and media, navigated the politics of seating arrangements for lunch, passed out question cards for panel discussions, and ran back and forth between the main meeting area and the strategic room one floor down. After the first break, the reception area suddenly became a sea of people. The introvert in me secretly wanted to hide in a corner, but Kathleen He (UC Berkeley) and Leslie Martinez (TAMIU) tugged me along, “Come on! We have to go introduce ourselves.” My nerves returned; you have to understand, I’m usually scared to meet people my same age, let alone a group of successful and experienced adults. When I heard two Chinese men talking about the area of Beijing where I had studied abroad the previous spring and the pollution, I realized I had pertinent experiences to share. I sucked in my breath, walked over to them and stuck out my hand to introduce myself. After that, every subsequent conversation became less frightening. I soon came to realize that beneath titles or status, these were still people who appreciated being listened to and enjoyed sharing something of themselves with me just like everyone else.
Besides interacting with the summit’s guests, we also listened to a wide variety of speakers and panelists. One of my favorites was Dr. David Ho. He told us the story of how he went from being a young boy in Taiwan to a Harvard medical student and eventually to become one of the first doctors in the world to research AIDS in 1981. He ended his talk by giving five pieces to advice to young people:
- We must have serendipity and preparedness in everything that we commit to. These two traits will set us up for success.
- We must have conviction and take risks. Dr. Ho explained how he took an extreme risk when he decided to focus on AIDS research. At the time of his research, only a very small subset of the population had the virus and AIDS was largely unknown. By trusting himself and doing what he felt was right, he was able to provide us with enough information about AIDS before it became a widespread epidemic, saving millions of lives.
- We must strive to distinguish truth from dogma. Dr. Ho pointed out that innovation and progress typically come from those who challenge the traditional order of things, especially in science.
- We must know the difference between could and should, 可以 and 应该. Although there are many actions we “could” pursue, we need to be able to identify those that we “should” pursue and put our efforts to the latter.
- Finally and most importantly, we must have both vision and action. Dr. Ho quoted a Japanese proverb, “Vision without action is a dream. Action without vision is a nightmare.” If our actions don’t have a direction, then we have no way to measure if they are effective.
This made me think—as students, as leaders, as Pengyous, what is our vision and how do we align our vision with our actions? Mr. Pin Ni, President of Wanxiang America, a panelist at the Summit, provided great insight into this question. When asked to give one piece of advice to the future U.S. president to be elected in 2016, Pin remarked that the president must continue to build personal relationships with other leaders. He said that when we turn people into “institutional symbols”, we begin to leave room for prejudice, distrust, and even hate. While many of us will not be president in 2016, 2020, or any time in the future, as leaders in our own right, his advice holds true. We all should make an effort to build relationships with the people in our own community, country, and world who have very different backgrounds from us, and in doing so, bridging the gap between hearts and cultures.
I recognize that I am not the only person who finds meeting new people nerve-wracking, especially those we assume we don’t have much in common with. I would have been a lot less anxious if I had stayed home in Portland, but instead I flew across the country and faced those fears. Why? Maybe subconsciously I realized that being in the same physical place as people matters a lot more than our generation cares to admit. The other fellows could have updated me about their chapters and future plans over email, but no one can digitize the happiness that came from our shared laughs and our shared excitement. Meeting new people will probably always give me anxiety, but it’s something I’m willing to face if it means that I can feel the same inspiration and drive as I did after this summit. And that’s my vision for my Project Pengyou Chapter at Lewis & Clark College and the organization at large: to foster genuine, cohesive friendships that allow us to grow beyond what we think we are capable of.
About the Committee of 100:
The Committee of 100 is a membership organization of prominent Chinese Americans dedicated to elevating and ensuring the full inclusion of Chinese Americans in all aspects of American society and building strong relations of mutual benefit between the United States and Greater China.