Lightning Talks: My culture in minutes

By China Digital Discovery Camp correspondent Yehao Xue

July 4 — Independence Day for the U.S. — was the second day for us Chinese Digital Discovery Camp students at Newsroom By The Bay. That night, we held a party during dinnertime and all had fun playing with our foreign friends.

I also joined them to sing, to eat, to dance, to talk. But then, student Sara Du, who had organized a series of lightning talks by other students in order to make us all know more about one another, came to find me. She invited me to give them a short talk.

I cannot remember what I was thinking exactly, but I  still remember that I was not only surprised — I was totally shocked. I really wanted to ask: “Are you kidding me? Let me give a speech in front of almost a hundred students in English?”

I thought it was a joke. But since I hadn’t heard about any traditions of telling jokes to others during the Independence Day holiday, I realized that she was probably being honest.Then I started to wonder:”Why it is me? I mean, I’m not good at English, and I’m not good at speaking in public, either. So why me?’’ I knew that I definitely had cold feet. But she insisted that I represent the Chinese team of 15 students. The only thing I could do was to accept and prepare as much as possible.

The topic was unique Chinese things that may differ compared to the U.S. Du asked me what I wanted to introduce. But it was a hard question, just like being asked what you want to eat, and responding with ‘whatever.’ There are too many things that are different from the U.S.; we have a different lifestyle, different rules and different food preferences. In the U.S., I can talk the whole day without a break. It is not about what I want to say, but what they want to know. So I began to talk with others about what I would talk about, and finally I decided to present Alipay and Didi. The first is a revolutionary new payment system, and the second is a kind of Chinese ride-sharing service.

As the ‘lightning talk’ started, I began to feel nervous. The big party made me feel a bit tired and dizzy. The anxiety nearly caused me to break down. What an awful moment! I felt nothing but terror when I saw other speakers presenting without a language barrier. I was afraid I might be laughed at because of my possible English mistakes.

After a lifetime of waiting, my time came. I went up there with a terrible mood, but everyone applauded and encouraged me, which gave me the confidence to continue. It was strange after I started speaking. I forgot all the negative feelings; the only thing I was thinking was to try to show others what I’m interested in. I even told them a joke that is popular in China. At first I was afraid that when I translated it into English, they would not get it, but to my surprise, every single one of them was laughing!

I was so happy at that moment. I succeeded. I did it. It feels like all the negative things just disappeared; only happiness remained in my heart. It was really an exciting experience. I’m glad I had the opportunity to do this.

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