American Gen-Zers embrace, promote friendship with Chinese counterparts

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.
"I believe that by making the connections we made with youth around our age and around the world, we are going to be able to communicate better as the next generation, building the world up," Anna Colbaugh, an 11th-grade student at the Lincoln High School in Washington State, US, told the Global Times.

This 16-year-old student recently returned to the US with a firm belief in the betterment of China-US people-to-people friendship, after embarking on a trip to China as part of a cultural exchange program.

In March, Colbaugh, along with 23 other students from Lincoln High School and Steilacoom High School in Washington State, US, embarked on an 11-day visit to China. They were part of the group of Gen-Z "friendly ambassadors" invited by China under a program announced by Chinese President Xi Jinping in November 2023. The program aims to invite 50,000 young Americans to China over a period of five years for exchanges and study.

Growing up in an era of rapid media development, young people, both in China and the US, face a flood of information at their fingertips. The opportunity to see the world with their own eyes is therefore even more precious.

Visiting a country with thousands of years of civilizational history was a valuable experience that changed the lives of these young Americans. They are eager to understand China, a country they may not have known much about or even held misconceptions about.

After gaining a more authentic, comprehensive, and multidimensional view of China, they appreciated, communicated, and built friendships with the young people of this country. They are also eager to inject the power of youth into the broad communication between the two peoples and the long-term development of the relationship between the two countries.

Desire to understand real China

"I chose to go on this trip to China because I wanted to learn more about the culture, and I knew that this trip would expand my knowledge of China," Colbaugh explained. Colbaugh said she did not know much about China before going on the trip other than the existing stereotypes.

Her trip to China gave her and other students a chance to learn about China's rich history and culture. They visited the Palace Museum and marveled at the beauty of the historic complex, climbing the Great Wall, and experiencing the grandeur of this world cultural heritage site.

"I visited a lot of places like Beijing, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen, but one of the most memorable places I went to was the Wudang Mountains. I loved learning tai chi because I have always seen people do it and I was very interested and excited to learn it."

In the past, influenced by biased media coverage and politicians, many Americans saw a China that was not real. Now, young Americans who are actually coming to China are hoping to change that.

"Coming out of this trip I know a lot more about China and I now know that the things that people might say could be wrong. I can now share my experiences with people," Colbaugh said.

Similarly, Luke Kelly, a 17-year-old student from Steilacoom High School, shared his enthusiasm for the trip to China and the valuable lessons he learned from the experience. "Once I returned to the US, the first thing I did was tell all my family and friends; just called them, texted them, met up with them, and told them how great my trip was, how amazing China was, and how much I want to go back and bring them with me," he said.

For Kelly, who has never traveled outside of the US, he thought this tour "would be an amazing once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I'd be able to experience a culture and history of somewhere that I've only ever heard and read about for myself."

This group of young Americans wanted to come to China to see the world in a new way, and many of them came to China with a long wish list: Experiencing Chinese history and culture, and buying traditional Chinese clothing. And when they set foot on this magical land, there were many surprises they did not expect.

"The scenery in China is breathtaking. It is gorgeous. There, they found a way to incorporate nature into their largest cities. They have trees and bushes and flowers flourishing everywhere," Kelly said.

In Kelly's opinion, China is a very progressive and flourishing country. "It is a very welcoming, diverse place that is very economically stable and friendly to foreigners."

Currently, Kelly is taking a Chinese early civilization class at his school. "So I can learn more and gain more knowledge and education about the place that I have visited and love so much," he said.

Friendship lasts forever

On March 18, at the first stop of their tour in Beijing, Tsinghua University High School, the American high school students carefully prepared to sing a Chinese song "On the Field of Hope," in which Colbaugh also participated.

Back in September 2015, during President Xi's visit to the US, he appreciated the Chinese song "On the Fields of Hope" and the English song "What a Wonderful World" jointly performed by the choir at Lincoln High School and the students of Affiliated High School of Fuzhou College of Education.

Nearly a decade on, the students who once sang "On the Field of Hope" have grown up. However, for students at Lincoln High School, this song remains familiar. As the melody of this song continues to be passed on, new chapters in the story of China-US friendship are constantly being written.

During a school exchange activity in Shenzhen, South China's Guangzhou Province, Kelly learned to play softball for the first time and was full of praise for the Chinese students who taught him the skill. That afternoon, he added 6 Shenzhen students as friends on WeChat.

These American Gen-Zers told the Global Times that the biggest takeaway from the trip to China was friendship. Although they come from different countries and different cultural backgrounds, they share common interests, similar experiences, and similar emotions. As long as the young people of both countries have the opportunity to interact, they can find a common language, break down barriers, and jointly build a vision for the future.

"I went to China to learn about the culture and make friends that I am still in contact with on WeChat. The focus of my trip was to build relationships not to focus on conflict. The people I met were friendly and welcoming," Colbaugh said.

On March 25, students from both countries gathered in Shenzhen for the "Youth Friendship Forest" to mark the 45th anniversary of diplomatic relations between China and the US. The students planted 45 trees, symbolizing "happiness and tranquility."

Colbaugh noted her expectation is for the young people to continue exchanges between China and the US, and create lifelong friendships.

"I hope we can bring back the relations and… carry on and encourage other people to go and do the same," Kelly said. "I believe that it will only go up from here," Kelly said.

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