‘Chinese people are hospitable; so are we,’American Gen Zers recall journey in China, appeal for common ground and enduring friendship

Students from Muscatine High School experience flying a paper kite during a class at Shijiazhuang Foreign Language School in Shijiazhuang, North China's Hebei Province, on April 20, 2024. Photo: VCG

Students from Muscatine High School experience flying a paper kite during a class at Shijiazhuang Foreign Language School in Shijiazhuang, North China’s Hebei Province, on April 20, 2024. Photo: VCG

Editor’s Note: 

The youth are the vanguards of our time, showcasing boundless energy and vibrant personalities.

Gen-Zers not only represent the makers of the future but also serve as agents of change in the present. With an open mindset and an international outlook, they actively integrate into the currents of globalization, engaging in deep exchanges, and collaborating with youth from around the world to explore pathways and strategies to address global challenges.

The Global Times has launched the “Voice from Gen Z” series, which focuses on the proactive actions and innovative achievements of young people in areas such as global governance, cultural exchange, environmental protection, and technological innovation. Through this column, we aim to showcase the unique charm and future leadership of global Gen-Zers.

“The youth of China and the US should continue to build strong friendships, improving their understanding of each other, and their countries. This will help lead citizens around the world to interact and communicate with each other.” This sentiment was solemnly shared by 17-year-old Colin Millage from Muscatine High School from the US state of Iowa, as he returned to the country after an 8-day study tour in China in late April.

The study tour delegation is called “Inheritance of Friendship,” which is part of a China-initiated program that invites 50,000 US youth to China within five years for exchanges and study. The delegation is the second batch from the school. 

With all 32 members of Generation Z who came to China for the first time, they embarked on the journey with curiosity about China and a desire to fully embrace the country and its people. Touched by the sincere interactions between the people of China and the US, they are committed to carrying forward friendship in their own way. 

Millage believes that their trip can serve as an example to young people, showing that friendships between countries can lead the world in the right direction toward peace and stability. 

“We are the future. It’s important for the youth all over the world to connect for a better future. I expect there will be many more exchanges between the two countries,” Millage’s fellow Skye Foster, a 10th-grade student, also shared with the Global Times.


‘Beautiful first impression’

With the dazzling light effects, innovative stage design and imaginative program arrangement, the welcome performance titled “Chinese Impressions” by students from Shijiazhuang Foreign Language School on the evening of April 19 in Shijiazhuang, North China’s Hebei Province, left a lasting impression on Millage.  

“It gave me a beautiful first impression,” Millage said, referring to the exquisite performance of his Chinese peers and the profound Chinese culture embedded in the program.

American Gen Zers are always eager to experience different cultures. For example, Foster noted she chose to participate in the school trip to China because she loved learning Chinese.

During the journey, the delegation visited Beijing, Hebei, and Shanghai. They wore traditional Hanfu, climbed the Great Wall, visited the Forbidden City, and explored the Xiong’an New Area. They tasted traditional local cuisine, learned to pay for services using mobile phone QR codes, experiencing a real, comprehensive China that blends the classical and the modern.

In Millage’s opinion, China is a country filled with deep culture and history. From the intricate architecture to the meaningful cultural practices, the country beautifully presents itself with an influential cultural identity. 

“China is a very big country. There is so much to learn about China. There’s so much to see and I had a great experience there,” Foster said.

“Sending the second study tour delegation to China in such a short period of time shows how successful the first group’s trip to China was,” Ryan Scott Castle, principal of Muscatine High School, told the Global Times. He mentioned that many students who had previously visited China signed up again for the second research group and he had to use his authority as principal to “keep them in the US” because more and more students from Muscatine are eager to explore China.

“Before departure, I told the kids: As soon as the plane lands, put away your phones, absorb like a sponge, breathe in the air of China, enjoy the food of China, seize every opportunity to communicate with the people around you… Since you are in China, embrace it with your whole heart,” said Luca Berrone, Chairman of the Muscatine-China Initiatives Committee, who accompanied the delegation to China.

To Berrone’s relief, the teenagers did just that. Millage said he would tell all his family and friends that China should be their next vacation. 

Millage noted that some media sources in the US made China out to be restrictive on some level, but he thought that mainly stems from the US’ superiority complex about being “the most free country” when most other countries are also free. 

“After being in China, I completely disagree with any portrayal of the country being restrictive… While some Americans may be cautious when visiting the country due to negatively preconceived notions, they should look past that and appreciate the beauty the country can offer,” he stressed.

Exemplary tales of exchanges

Students from Muscatine High School learn Chinese calligraphy at Shijiazhuang Foreign Language School on April 21, 2024. Photo: VCG

Students from Muscatine High School learn Chinese calligraphy at Shijiazhuang Foreign Language School on April 21, 2024. Photo: VCG

Hebei Province and the Iowa State signed their sister-state relationship in 1983. For over 40 years, Hebei and Iowa have written many exemplary tales of friendly exchanges.

In the spring of 1985, Chinese President Xi Jinping, at that time a county leader in Zhengding, Hebei Province, took his initial steps on US soil. From then on, Xi never forgot his American friends and believes that people hold the key to state-to-state relations.

Now, this friendship is being further strengthened with new initiatives.

For Foster, her most memorable experience in China was going to her Chinese partner’s home and spending more time with her. 

As the host school for the US students, the Shijiazhuang Foreign Language School requested students from China and the US to form one-on-one friendly partnerships. They studied Chinese poetry, played table tennis, and each US student also visited the home of his or her Chinese partner and had dinner together.

“The teachers were very kind and caring. The students were so welcoming and nice,” Foster said.

More importantly, these young people from China and the US have the opportunity to sit together and listen to their elders tell stories of the sincere interactions between the two countries throughout history.

Berrone, who was involved in Xi’s first visit to the US, still remembered the first dinner that the Hebei delegation led by Xi had in Iowa, which was a traditional American “potluck dinner,” at which each family brought a dish to share. 

The delegation immediately blended in with the local residents, Berrone recalled. “Meeting for the first time, local residents were also very excited and attracted to them, wanting to know more about Hebei and China,” he said.

American Gen Zers also value the ties of friendship; they were encouraged by the stories of the elderly generation. “They taught me to cherish these bonds, especially cherish those with Chinese partners that span thousands of miles,” Millage said. “American and Chinese people speak different languages and have different cultures, however, Chinese people are hospitable, and so are we.”

During his trip to China, Millage and his friends exchanged their ideals and looked forward to becoming closer friends, growing together to become better individuals.

“Ultimately, both countries should look toward to these similarities to find common ground and build a stronger relationship,” he said.

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