Joy and the future of flight

Joy, a friend of mine at Peking University, hails from Hunan and studies Information Management (for instance, how Baidu arranges the vast information it aggregates … a hot topic?). This summer, she hopes to be an intern for Boeing’s Future of Flight Aviation Centre, working as a tour guide around the company’s tourism hub and plane factory in Seattle.

She sent me her application to check the English. The form was for Chinese applicants, and one of the questions – in a slightly round-about fashion – targeted how she might handle awkward questions about China from foreigners. (Presumably not: “How dare you use so much cooking oil in your recipes? How DARE you!”)

Here is the unedited last paragraph of Joy’s answer:

4. How do you deal with “culture shock” and communicate with foreigners who hold different opinions with you, especially when you’re talking about some sensitive topics? (Max 150 words)

In no case will I choose something sensitive as my topics. However, when asked such questions, I won’t hesitate to speak out my views. The comments about China positive or not, I will reply objectively, calmly, and on behalf of PKU as well as China.

Note: PKU – Peking University

To what extent are young Chinese representing their country abroad being vetted for suitability to answer questions on ‘sensitive topics’? Will an applicant’s answer to this question potentially deprive them of this opportunity if it doesn’t fill a tick-box? It’s even difficult to tell what the safest answer is.

Joy’s first sentence is spot on, I think. The third too, especially ‘calmly’. It’s the second which leaves room for worry: by ‘speak out my views’, she in some circumstances might be agreeing with the foreigner’s criticism, in others disagreeing. My guess is that the first scenario doesn’t worry the box-tickers: if a single Chinese agrees with criticism of the CCP abroad, it’s no biggie. But in the second scenario: an argument might follow, tempers possibly flare, a scene and major embarrassment could ensure.

Unchecked nationalism is a bigger concern for the government than unmuffled dissatisfaction: it not only gives an impression abroad of China as aggressive, but pressurises the Party to pander to such sentiments if an incident escalates, for fear of the people’s anger turning 180% on themselves (just look at the Belgrade embassy riots, which were allowed to continue so long). And it’s possible to imagine such an incident emerging from a poorly handled tour question.

So I worry Joy isn’t being unambiguous enough. ‘Speak out my views’? Something boring and safe like ‘answer to the extent of my knowledge’ might go down better.

1 comment

  1. “How do you deal with “culture shock” and communicate with foreigners who hold different opinions with you, especially when you’re talking about some sensitive topics? (Max 150 words)”

    Picture a long line of visitors 100 people long, all from different countires, waiting to purchase tickets for a tour that begins in five minutes and there are three ticket agents to process the lot.

    I believe the purpose of this question on the Peking U application has to do with the fact that those who work for the Future of Flight Aviation Center & Boeing Tour come in contact with people from all over the world (175 countries in 2008). It is a very fast paced environment, which involves taking cash and credit cards and making detailed explanations about what is and is not allowed on the Boeing Tour. The “culture shock” I believe refers to explaining to a person from another culture why they cannot take a cell phone, camera, purse, electronic device of any kind on the tour. Some people are reluctant to leave valuables behind even if there are lockers and it is possible they may try to argue their point, which can slow up transactions. A Chinese student would never be called upon to give his or her opinion about any subject other than what is or is not allowed on the tour, which credit cards are accepted or what tour times are available and “sensitive” topics about why there are no restrooms available inside the factory during the tour and why you have to be 4ft. tall to take the tour. Does this help clarify?

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