Global outlooks needed in 'localizing' world
In these difficult times we are observing increasing fear of diversity and mistrust towards people who look, think and speak differently from ourselves. In many countries, heated discussions are held on how to protect national interests and how to raise walls against potential new enemies. The latest virus outbreak has been just another occasion to give voice to such irrational fears.
Many commentators argue globalization is now at a crossroads. Is there any likelihood we will be more local than international? Are more companies supposed to inshore, less students to go abroad to study, people will travel less and we will be more confined in limited fences? I truly hope not. I am not against the localization, nor the treasuring of each of our own heritage of traditions and rules. On the contrary, I strongly believe we need to value all the experiences and cultures we come across, embrace them and carry with us wherever we go. It is not local vs international; it is a sum.
Italy's tradition of sailors and explorers, as well as a long history of achievements in philosophy, poetry and literature, are part of the toolkit I carry with me. When I arrived in China, everything was totally new. But after living in many countries, my international experiences helped me to look at things with the curiosity, humility and open-mindedness to learn. This is my journey. As Anita Desai said, "Wherever you go becomes a part of you somehow."
I am proud to be Italian, and I proudly graduated from Tsinghua University Law School, being the first Italian ever who achieved a PhD in such prestigious institution. Tsinghua is one of the best universities in China and top-ranked worldwide, based in Beijing where I live since 2007. Before that, I have lived and worked in numerous countries. I truly value being international: speaking different languages, having friends and colleagues from different nationalities and a mindset capable of adapting to different environments.
But it wasn't always like this. Until young adulthood I was very "local", the never sleeping Milan was my haven. I had my life, my family and my close friends, all in one neighborhood. I felt happy and safe. I was not interested in what was happening outside Italian borders. Until I was 16, I never traveled abroad. At that time, my parents gave me a brand new motorbike which I enjoyed riding. Once I rode it around Maggiore Lake, a beautiful area in Italy which borders Switzerland. I still remember the first time I went to the border and saw customs. There was a big white sign with "Italy" written in red and crossed with a thick black line. Outside there was no Italy, nothing of the world I knew.
Like many sailors who for centuries worried when approaching the strait of Gibraltar, I got shocked and scared and that time I did not have the courage to cross. Another day I tried again and I felt brave enough to successfully go over the national borders. Although I had very high heartbeat, after a few hours wandering around, I felt surprised and comforted when I saw that people living in that foreign country spoke the same language and had similar habits as 'us'. This was my first little experience abroad. I did not have any further chance to visit foreign countries for many years but the spark was already in my mind. "The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step". So says Chinese sage Lao Zi. When I was 21, or so I went on vacation to Ireland. It was totally different, of course. People spoke English, not Italian, and habits and sceneries were alien to me. Nevertheless I enjoyed discovering such enchanting places. The next step took place when I was in Italy studying my master's degree at Bocconi University and I had the chance to spend a term abroad at a partner university. Bocconi has a very good reputation, but what made it special was its focus on internationalization. They really push students to learn new languages, enjoy their studies and achieve work experience abroad as part of their academic and personal curriculum. For my study abroad, I chose Madrid, Spain. It was my first time living elsewhere, and it was awesome.
Since then I never stopped as I quickly realized, knowing people from different countries and living in different places is incredibly enriching. As St. Augustine said, "The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page."
I hope more people can have such a privilege. Moving from "local" to "global" is amazing. Not being afraid of diversity and being able to adapt to different contexts and situations makes you humble and willing to understand what different people have to say. At the same time, it shapes your mindset and makes you conscious of your value. In fact, even more than visiting a new place, I enjoy the total exposure of living in a different country; working there, learning the language, studying the culture and developing real meaningful friendships. As pointed out by Marilyn Vos Savant "To acquire knowledge, one must study; but to acquire wisdom, one must observe." Studying, working and living in different countries enhance both.
As a matter of fact the word 'intelligence' is derived from two words in Latin: 'intus' means inside and 'legere" means to read, to see, to understand. Thus, an intelligent person is able to comprehend the reality from the inside. Theodore Zeldin argues that "understanding does not eliminate disagreement, but it transforms it into an enriching experience, a feeling that one is being allowed to enter into the mysteries of human variability".
It also means in different contexts to be sympathetic with someone else's position and understand it. This is especially challenging in an international and diversified environment and requires a sharp curious mind and empathic capacity. Aristotle said that "Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all".
On top of working as business and legal consultant in China I always enjoyed being in academia, at Tsinghua university and China Agricultural University, both learning and teaching so that I am able to receive knowledge and share it at the same time. In China, I had the chance to attend extraordinary courses and be inspired by terrific scholars and professionals. At the same time, I taught so many brilliant students during the last ten years journey that it is kind of weird but I still feel sometimes surprised by their hard work and willingness to learn and improve. They are amazingly committed, and can teach us all a great lesson on how to seek self-realization and fulfillment.
One of the key-virtue of experiencing life in different countries is that you absorb each place's culture. That is not that obvious though and requires a true endeavor. It also requires you to be very curious and open-minded. If so each of us can go beyond his/her own set of values, and while keeping them, embrace new ones. We are shaped by our roots and origins and we tend to appreciate more what we know and we are used to. However "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime." (Mark Twain). The enrichment is granted.
The author is an International business and legal consultant. He lives in Beijing since 2007 where he also teaches and conducts academic research. He graduated from Bocconi University in Italy, Temple University in USA and achieved a PhD at Tsinghua University in China.
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