How Making International Friends Creates A Better Future
The greatest hope for peace in the future is when international friendships become so common that people feel a personal connection to those they are told to fight.
This is a deep and wise message I received from a pen pal I made two years ago. I didn’t quite conceive the picture at that point but the idea of it lingers in my mind. And since then, my sense towards miscommunication sharpened.
Everyday in the news media, I read hatred and shaming, insults and abuses; not between people that have their lives crossed, but between races, ethnicity, genders, religions, nationalities, social status – things that most of us don’t have control of.
I wondered why. Why do people fight and despise people that they don’t know? Are we born with the instinct of hating and disliking something or someone? Or are we involuntarily influenced through a complex process the professionals like to call socialization? Is it because the government told us to do so? Or the media? Is it because of social expectation and peer pressure?
Being born and raised in a richly mixed-culture city, Hong Kong, I have particular personal experience with situations like this. Due to certain historical and political grounds, resentment and discontent grows within our society. I am ashamed to admit it, but at some point I got infected by the widespread negative emotion and let it overcast my judgment.
The political situation in Hong Kong makes it hard to be objective when it comes to China. Our media don’t fail to fan the flame. Soon, the arrows people held shifted aim from the government to the people of China. It didn’t take them long to start firing at each other.
As someone who had only been living in Hong Kong, it seemed only natural to side with people with whom I share the same lives and values. So I was like Elizabeth Bingley, holding my little prejudice towards people that I barely knew based on perception and prejudgment.
This only changed when I embarked my first solo trip following an exchange semester in China. I met people that were incredibly friendly to me. I was generously hosted and so ever kindly treated. I made friends with local students from the university without the thought of “wait, but they are not my kind” crossing my mind. No, all I saw was the fact that they were genuine, caring and loyal. They were not how our media portrayed; not those “unreasonable, arrogant” people that we read about in the newspaper.
It’s scary how our society can shape the way we see the world and our perception to different groups of people. We talked through things that had happened and exchanged opinions with reasons and patience. I learn that despite looking at the same object, we see it from different angles because we are put in different places. I could never have seen what they saw had I have never left Hong Kong, and I would never know how wrong I was to be fooled by the media.
Over dinner, I looked at my friends from China and their delightful smiles. Somehow my thoughts wandered. I thought: “If only people from Hong Kong and people from China could have communicated without barriers or medians.”
Should that happen, will there still be misunderstandings and miscommunications? If the angry people from both sides sat at the dinner table that I was at, had the same connection that I had with these friends, would they still shout those hurtful things toward each other? That’s when I understand the meaning of the sentence from a pen pal of mine: “The greatest hope for peace in the future is when international friendships become so common that people feel a personal connection to those they are told to fight.”
A grand and Utopian notion as such, but how does it work? Well, from the moment you participate in an exchange program or study abroad, you’re already a part of the changing force. Still have no idea what I mean? Let me walk it through for you.
- You see how the world really is with your own eyes, not through media, which can be misleading.
- You put yourself out there – breaking the cocoon that you were once in – to experience and see how others perceive the world.
- You meet different people who bring in new perspectives and ideas that you perhaps have never thought of.
- You make connections with people from everywhere. By the time you part ways with them, part of them will always be with you.
- You bring those pieces of them back home, and start spreading the seeds because you’ll share your memories with the people around you.
- You no longer see the world the same as before. When someone makes judgments out of bias, you defend and explain what you know. You bring in perspectives and tolerance.
- You don’t let others influence your opinions because you know when things happen, you know who to turn to for clarification and truth.
- You inspire more people to step outside their previous mindset. The cycle goes on and so does the ripple.
You don’t fight with your friends; you argue and reason, but never flip over and hurt each other. Now imagine if everyone is connected to one and other. Would there still be war and arm conflicts?