By Bridget Sullivan
I am afraid of heights, roller coasters, rejection -- and when I was younger, questionable facial hair. In an effort to put everything on the table, I’ll confess something else: I am not usually a risk-taker. I am, however, motivated by food, happy reunions and exploring.
Knowing these basic facts, it might surprise you to learn this: Last month, I took a 17-hour plane ride to the other end of the world. China. I’ll spare you the slideshow of filtered, Instagram-worthy photos and gushing love poems to dim sum. (I’ll gladly share these on request.)
I spent 10 days immersed in the overwhelming, confusing beauty of Zhuhai, China. I will not understate my culture shock that occurred: I could not understand anything. For someone who makes a living as a communicator, you can only imagine my frustration.
While I didn’t come back with an exemplary command of Mandarin, I was lucky enough to learn three basic words. These words were tirelessly repeated by my two friends (both rock-star English teachers who are fluent in Mandarin). That being said, the simple act of trying to articulate these words was a personal act of rebellion and risk-taking.
1. Guanxi (pronounced gwan-shee)
Guanxi is, roughly, the bonds that connect people. These commonalities are the basis of many friendships and this “community-centric” mentality creates a supportive, enriching environment. But it goes beyond that, in most cases. It’s a selfless act -- it’s stretching your comfort zone and going out of your way to support people in your life.
When I met my friends’ students, roommates and their extended network, I was amazed by the warm reception they gave me. As a foreigner, I have never felt so welcomed, and I’ve made it my goal to create organic patches of guanxi in my own life.
2. Buhaoyisi (pronounced boo-how-ee-suh)
This phrase is uttered when you have made a mistake, and it’s used interchangeably with duibuqi (dway-boo-key). For someone like me, I’m in a continual state of apology, but in Chinese culture, apologies aren’t typically uttered unless a very obvious mistake has been made.
It took me three days to learn how to pronounce this word correctly, and another three to use in the proper context. But, oh the joy I felt when I was able to apologize in a culturally appropriate manner. Lesson learned: know the value of a well-time apology and the kicker: use it sparingly!
3. Xiexie (pronounced she-eh, she-eh)
Thank you. My first word, and I used it every chance I got! Thank you, thank you, thank you -- I couldn’t get enough. I used it to fill in the gaps -- my naïve, earnest attempts to bridge a language barrier higher than the Great Wall.
But you know what? There’s no bigger risk than being filled with gratitude and openly sharing it with others.
If you’re ready to take some calculated risks, here are a few to try:
1. Create a welcoming community (guanxi)
2. Apologize appropriately (buhaoyisi)
3. Be thankful + share thanks (xiexie)
What’s at risk? Being vulnerable with others. The reward? Building an authentic personal brand.