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Key insights from my trip to China

I just returned from an epic trip to China with my son’s high school basketball team.

We started the trip by playing basketball at two incredible schools, which I’ll tell you more about below.

We then travelled around the Hangzhou and Shanghai area.We had the opportunity to visit a Buddhist temple, explore an ancient water village, ride a boat on the famous West Lake in downtown Hangzhou, eat at local markets, visit a tea plantation and even ride the bullet train!

Upon reflection, I wanted to share three key insights from this once-in-a-lifetime trip.

Insight One: China provides the perfect blend of ancient and modern life.

We were walking down the streets of Shanghai, marvelling at all the modern skyscrapers in this immaculate city. As we turned a corner, we were in awe. 

By chance, we happened upon a market surrounded by traditional Chinese architecture from 1219! These buildings were red and gold and ordained by the most intricate carvings.

This experience sums up China for me. While China is at the forefront of emerging economies and digital infrastructure, it is also grounded in a rich history and culture.

Ancient China provided the world with remarkable inventions like papermaking, printing, powder and the compass.

On the trip, we learned about the 13 dynasties in China, each ruled by a family for hundreds of years. Each dynasty brought reforms in politics, the economy, military affairs and culture.

Tributes to each dynasty are seen all over China in the form of temples, statues, and different art forms.

In juxtaposition to these historical tributes, China’s cities are enormous, modern, and very high-tech. Shanghai, for example, has some of the tallest buildings in the world, very modern shopping malls, high-speed commuter trains, and state-of-the-art schools and universities. These cities truly are the bridge between the East and the West.

It was thrilling to see the blend of old and new so effortlessly connected across China. 

Insight Two: We can learn from China’s link between education and industry.

We came to China for the kids to play basketball. We played at two private schools, each on grounds larger than most university campuses. In fact, one of the schools has over 20,000 teachers and students on their campus.

What I find most interesting about these schools is who funded them: two of China’s largest organizations.

The first one, Yungu School, is the brainchild of Jack Ma, the co-founder of Alibaba. As a business magnate and investor, Jack Ma financed this school with the purpose of redefining education and developing well-rounded students, prepared to lead China into the future.

The second school we visited is Hailang School, which is funded by Hailang Co Ltd, one of the world’s largest copper manufacturers, amongst other things. This school aims to provide the best quality international education, preparing its students to be Olympic athletes, world-class scholars, and future leaders in China. 

While the North American schooling system has had the same curriculum since the 1960s, these innovative Chinese schools are redefining education and developing and preparing their students to build the future and meet the needs of the future of work.

There is a lot we can learn in the West from these schools! 

Insight Three: At the end of the day, people are people.

For a Western person travelling to China, there are many differences. The language is different, the food is different, and their traditions and culture are very different.

But at the end of the day, people are people.

The kids in the schoolyard laughed and played together as they do here.

We saw many families connecting over a delicious meal.

Young people sported the latest fashions and gathered in groups to socialize.

Babies smiled at us from their strollers as their proud parents grinned from ear to ear.

People are people.

We all want the same things.

We want to connect with others. We want to build relationships. We want a successful life and a promising future. We want to be proud of our heritage and culture.

At the end of the day, my trip to China showed me how much we can learn from each other. 

While our differences often keep us divided, it is actually our similarities as humans that should inspire each of us to change.

It is healthy to notice what others do well and be open to changing our mental model to adopt new methodologies to improve ourselves!

Thank you to all the amazing people in China for inspiring me to be a more balanced person who strives to innovate yet is also grounded by my heritage and roots!

Vanessa Judelman

Vanessa Judelman is an author, coach, and sought-after leadership expert. Over the past 20 years, she has created a proven formula to develop results-oriented leaders who feel empowered and confident in their job. Vanessa is the author of Mastering Leadership: What It Takes to Lead in Today’s Fast-Paced World. Order your copy here.

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