Senior Speeches: Kelly Zhou

January 12, 2018

“I learned successful communication is not about drawing a definite conclusion but, more importantly, about listening. Stay open-minded, listen to different voices, and think independently. In other words, learn before you judge.”

Each year, seniors at Shattuck-St. Mary’s School deliver a speech to their peers on a topic of their choosing in the Newhall Auditorium. Often equal parts clever and moving, emotional and personal, each speech offers a glimpse into the lives, experiences, struggles, and triumphs of SSM seniors.

Throughout the 2017-18 school year, we will share these speeches with the SSM community and hope that you enjoy the humor, wisdom, and powerful reflections conveyed by our senior students.

Kelly Zhou

“I’m going to say something very weird right now: ‘Meat rice dumpling.’

“Seriously: ‘Meat rice dumpling.’

“If you’re from Northern China where rice dumplings are sweet, the idea of a meat rice dumpling probably sounds as weird as bacon Coca-Cola. At the same time, students from the South argue that ‘Isn’t a rice dumpling supposed to be with meat?’

“However, in my world, these cultures are not exclusive, for my father is from the North, my mother the South. Though we live in a Northern city, my family keeps both northern and southern traditions, like eating both sweet and meat rice dumplings. We also have two different words for “spoon,” “broccoli,” “washing hands,” and even “grandma” and “grandpa.” However, while Googling the reason for the regional dietary differences, I was surprised to find there were even sweet meat rice dumplings in some cities. I thought, “Wow, what would that taste like?” and then “I want to try it!”

“Some people might look at different cultures as weird and strange, just because they are unfamiliar. To me, cultures that I have never been exposed to are so cool. I know cultures develop with the accumulation of time, little by little, hour by hour – and I believe all different cultures can coexist. How have I developed such a belief?

“My life story begins with my city, an ancient city called Taiyuan. During two massive migrations in Chinese history, Taiyuan served as the corridor between the Remote Land and the Central Plains. More than five groups with distinct cultures resided in the city. Nowadays, those cultures - along with foreign cultures that were introduced later -  benefit the whole city. For example, our diets, architecture, and customs are vividly diverse. From the windows of my home, I can see a Christian Church, three Islamic restaurants, people with Hijabs walking by, two Buddhist temples, a Mongolian restaurant, and a Hui bakery. Taiyuan’s unique history has cultivated my respect for cultural difference and diversity.

“Since I was young, I have traveled with my family. The first country I visited was Thailand, where almost everything seemed mysterious to me. The gold temples, white beaches, and colorful fruits all intrigued me. I still remember the first time I saw salak, a fruit with brown snake-like skin. I was scared to even touch it. Encouraged by my mom who always says to learn more about things before judging them, I took a bite and was amazed by its taste, special but not bad.

“In high school, I quit my dream school in China and decided to study in the U.S., the most diverse country in the world. I expected to live peacefully among people from all cultural backgrounds. However, intense conflicts between races, sexes, and social classes sometimes made me question the good of differences. Back in my city, all my classmates were from the same province. Sharing similar backgrounds, we knew what remarks or acts were rude and avoided offending each other. But here, with classmates from all around the world, I became too cautious, worried that some words might unintentionally hurt others. I asked myself whether cultures are so different that a respectful act in one culture can be rude in another. I wondered when different cultures meet, do they collide like continental plates creating destructive earthquakes, or do they grow together like grafted plants bearing fruits with a better flavor? I want to know how to communicate interculturally.

“Luckily, I found a solution by attending the diversity conference in Atlanta last year. There I learned successful communication is not about drawing a definite conclusion but, more importantly, about listening. Stay open-minded, listen to different voices, and think independently. In other words, learn before you judge.

“There are two maps in my bedroom: one of China and another of the world. I enjoy pointing to a random place with my index finger and memorizing the names of the countries I am pointing to. The world is so big that every time I do this I find some cities I have never noticed before. Modern technology helps us learn facts and information from around the world, but personal contact with people helps us learn genuine culture. In my own family, in my city, in Thailand, at Shattuck, and at the conference, I learned to respect cultural differences, get in touch with people, and listen to their unique stories.

“This is my story. Thank you for listening.”

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