Bridging cultures on the basketball court

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The following editorial was originally published in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Sunday, September 2, 2018 as part of the "Raise Your Hand" column in the Insights section.

By: Noah Furtado is a student at Maryknoll School, class of 2021; Alex Zhang attends Shanghai Nanyang Model High School, class of 2021.

Even with an increasingly globalized world, it is still easy for people to view only the surface of countries separated by long stretches of ocean. For many, storied political tensions, like those between China and the U.S., distort our vision because many are without personal experiences in these foreign nations. Through Maryknoll School’s Common Goal Diplomacy Program, we not only experienced educational diplomacy among peers, but we also witnessed the significance of cultural exchange and the finding of common ground.

This past March, our Maryknoll basketball team was sent out on a mission to reach out and create a budding friendship with the basketball team of Nanyang Model High School, a top Chinese school driven by student-athletes. From the start, we understood that this trip would be about more than just the sport of basketball. In fact, it was our last priority because our minds were focused on the idea of friendship by understanding our new environment and immersing ourselves in the culture that surrounded us.

The early stages of the trip were focused on engrossing myself in the culture of my host brother, Alex Zhang, as well as finding common ground and parallels with my own life. Each player on our team was hosted by a Nanyang student from their team. By doing so, each of us was committed to stepping into the shoes of our host brother and living alongside them in their daily life, whether that included attending classes or practicing on the court side-by-side.

Despite our cultural differences, the values and priorities in our lives proved to be the same. Alex showed me many parallels in terms of his relationships with his peers, coaches, family, friends and teachers. The level of respect he had for his elders and his close bonds with friends led me to think that we were no different at all. In retrospect, we really are just two young individuals, determined in every way possible to achieve goals on and off the court, as well as inside and outside of the classrooms, who just happen to live in two different places in the world.

At the end of the trip, we spoke frankly about our experience with each other. We confidently agreed that the memories along our journey of friendship meant more than the actual basketball game we played. The everyday things, tasks many would find insignificant, are among the memories that will be cherished the most. It was not only the trying of different foods that was a refreshing experience, but also the fact that I was able to sit in on Alex’s classes and observe his interactions among his own peers.

All the little things we experienced together, such as sharing a meal with our teammates or learning alongside fellow students in the classroom, were the highlights of our time together. Alex even expressed how it would be a great idea for him to visit Hawaii one day and have me host him. I couldn’t agree more.

The one thing from this experience that will continually resonate with us is that friendship goes far beyond a friendly conversation or occasional encounters. True friendships can be created through establishing connections with others, despite differences that may riddle the surface. Just as the game of basketball brought us together on the court, the aspects of our lives did so even more.