Katherine Nessel: ‘Go outside your comfort zone’

  • A crowd of tourists visits the Forbidden City in Beijing, China, in September 2017. DALLAS MORNING NEWS VIA TNS/Thomas Huang

Published: 12/12/2018 8:15:58 AM
‘Go outside your comfort zone’ 

The rising tension between the American and Chinese governments drew my attention before I embarked upon a one-month study abroad trip to Beijing. I wondered how people would treat me as an American given the rising trade war, and how my host families would accept me as a 6-foot-3 transgender girl, how different my host families’ lives would be in a country portrayed as a repressive state in the media.

The cultural connections I made ended up transcending all these fears I had from the media. My Chinese teacher thought highly of American students’ maturity and manners. When I described the film “Love, Simon” in class, she did not flinch at all at the gay premise of the movie. My host families could not have been more accepting of me, complementing me on my beauty without questioning my gender identity once. My host sisters led similar lives to their American counterparts despite a stronger emphasis on school, using social media and hanging out with friends after school.

One night of cultural immersion stands out in my mind whenever I reflect on my journey. My host family had taken me to the outskirts of Beijing to meet a group of friends, but as the night drew on we had to make the visit an impromptu sleepover. People I had met just an hour ago sang karaoke with me in their house as if we were old friends, accommodated me for the night, and even gifted me personally handcrafted jewelry as a memento.

There are political conflicts between the U.S. and China, and it is true that the Chinese government censors LGBTQ+ media. However, by immersing myself in a Chinese community and the Chinese language, I discovered that U.S.-China disputes do not deter many people from warmly embracing Americans. If you have the chance, go outside your comfort zone and spend time abroad and build connections. The world can be more compassionate than the media portrays it.

Katherine Nessel

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