By Jiyu Lin, W’15
Exactly one year ago today I was en route to Beijing, about to experience the most formative four months of my young adult life. I had chosen to dedicate one semester of my college career to studying at Peking University’s Guanghua School of Management. I arrived in China’s flourishing capital with the full expectation of gaining an educational and cultural experience. What I didn’t expect was the unforgettable connection I forged with the rest of my international exchange class.
The diversity of my class mirrored the assortment of nationalities in my cohort at Wharton, but we were a relatively small group of students. The common challenge we shared of navigating this foreign landscape bonded us together in a way that transcended the institutional association of a school.
That’s not to say that our academic endeavors weren’t enriching. In class, we engaged in many discussions about global business customs. I especially recall one afternoon lecture regarding professional ethics. The assigned case study told the fictional story of a man who encountered a tempting bribe opportunity, which led to a series of felonies, ranging from arson to slander to prostitution. Every member of the class then had to rank each crime by order of severity. The disparity in responses between the Asian students and the Western students surprised me. For example, the American students identified the act of arson as one of the worst since it is, from a legal and economic perspective, the most damaging. But the Chinese students believed that the arson was in part justified because the perpetrator committed it in defense of a loved one and was trying to avoid a greater evil. The two groups had different foundations for their moral beliefs which translated into how they viewed business and law. That lesson highlighted the importance of understanding cultural values when interpreting a situation.
Outside the Guanghua building, my classmates and I travelled across China to witness both its tremendous modernization and its ancient artifacts. We tasted beer in the old Tsingtao factory, ate savory dim sum in Guangzhou and cruised the legendary West Lake in Hangzhou. When the sun went down, we mingled with other expatriates in the city’s bars and clubs.
This post was originally published on the Wharton Undergraduate site on September 12, 2014.