by: Sophia Gao ’11
I don’t know if other people share the same feeling: When I went abroad, I found I had a better understanding of my home country, China. After one and a half years in America, my thoughts about China have changed a lot, and I have even redefined my personal goals because of it.
Originally from China, I traveled all the way here to study in an American school like many other Chinese students, with dreams to experience American culture and to seek out better living opportunities. However, when I came here, I found that everyone was talking about China. Many Americans seem to be attracted to its fast economic growth, and China’s business opportunities have been discussed many times in class as well.
This phenomenon made me think, “Yes, it is certainly true that China has a lot of attractive business opportunities, but why is it that many Chinese students, including myself, want to leave this land and go somewhere else?” The answer has become clear to me: driven by the values of materialism, China’s focus is on the growth of economy, without considering its sustainability. People who understand China see a variety of stresses in society, environmental issues and moral corruption.
After a few months in America, I was exposed for the first time to the concept of corporate social responsibility (CSR). We rarely talk about that in China, but when I heard this concept, my first reaction was “China needs that!” I was so inspired by the CSR idea that I pursued an internship doing just that. It was the first time I worked as a professional in America, and through that it helped me to deepen my understanding of the situation that my home country is facing.
During my internship, I gained a lot of hands-on experiences in CSR and had many face-to-face interactions with nonprofit organizations, but what helped me most was that my manager encouraged me to do thorough research on CSR and nonprofits in China. The research findings, however, were not that positive. Few Chinese companies were paying attention to their social responsibility, and at that time there were several serious scandals in some well-known Chinese nonprofit organizations, such as the Chinese Red Cross and Chinese Charity Federation. It really saddened me to discover these results.
How could this happen? My gut feeling was that we lack the foundation for CSR and effective nonprofit practices. It is a matter of awareness of social responsibility, and a determination for turning this awareness into practical actions. As I have observed, many Chinese people are beginning to realize the severe social problems, but it seems that very few people are really starting to do something about it. There are many barriers to overcome in order to change this situation, and we certainly have a long way to go.
During the past several months, while graduation approaches, I earnestly searched for ways where I could be most effective in helping my country. Prior to coming to America, I was involved in a group where American Christian missionaries and Chinese Christians came together with a strong determination to overcome these social difficulties in China. Employing the teachings of Jesus, over the past few years, we have begun to see the younger generation of Chinese evolve from an idea of pure self-indulgent materialism, to a more altruistic outworking into Chinese society, which I now sincerely believe is the foundation for a vibrant and effective CSR and nonprofit practices in China. Viewing China through this new lens, I could not help but being moved by these growing dilemmas faced by the Chinese people. With that in mind, I will go back in search of other riches, which may not be as tangible but are of great value – a restored human heart.
Now, with graduation only a month away, it is really interesting for me to look back: I came to America with an American dream, but it seems that America has given me a Chinese dream, with a much clearer picture of my home country and more meaningful goals of how my life should be.