Lehigh Alum Shares His Lessons Learned from Living in China
By Britteny Egan
Lehigh alumn John Leiner’s life after Lehigh has literally taken him to the other side of the globe.
Leiner, who currently lives in Bejing, China, recently returned to Lehigh to share his experiences working and living abroad with a group of more than 100 students during a Sept. 28 campus talk.
During that talk, a Lehigh student in the audience asked Leiner about his favorite thing to do when in China.
Leiner’s response? Talking to the local people. “I talk to the guards. I talk to the cleaners. I talk to the local Chinese every chance I get,” he said.
But, that wasn’t always the case, explained Leiner, who said he went through a bit of culture shock when he first arrived in Bejing.
“Being in China has been difficult at times,” he said. “Being away from friends and family was hard, but at the same time you encounter new experiences every day, so it was exciting
“You come home at night and have no one to vent too,” he said.
Leiner explained how he “hit a brick wall of cultural competency.” Not knowing the language entirely makes it very difficult to understand the culture entirely. “This is where his relationships with the Chinese went in opposite directions,” he said.
Leiner said there is a concept of “guanxi” in China. According to Dictionary.com, “guanxi is a social concept based on the exchange of favors. It means social relationships are more important than the law.” Leiner said it is strictly based on connections and relationships.
Over time, said Leiner, who is going on three years living in China, the locals would get excited to see him, and now he considers them friends.
For Leiner, who grew up in the Lehigh Valley, life after Lehigh has been quite an adventure. After his Lehigh graduation, Leiner worked for Lehigh’s Office of Admissions. He became a recruiter for Lehigh and worked from the West Coast to help create a more diverse student body. He lived in San Francisco for eight years, and eventually he earned a new job at the Chinese American International School in San Francisco. He was offered a three-year contract to work in Beijing, which he accepted.
Leiner has many international friends, and as a participant in the Global Union in his Lehigh days, he said he felt eager for the opportunity. “I felt comfortable taking the job,” he said.
While Leiner was an undergraduate at Lehigh, he never had the chance to study abroad. He gryphoned for three years and was deeply involved with the Global Union. While visiting campus again as alum, he said he was surprised to see the number of students attending his event, a big difference from his own time at Lehigh. He said he was happy to see how much Lehigh has grown and that more students are getting involved.
Leiner said being in China gave him a different perspective on life.
“I failed a lot there, in ways of behavior, but I learned a lot too,” Leiner said. “I have grown as a person.”
Leiner offered some advice to the Lehigh students in his audience: Travel any chance you get, he said. He told students they would begin to better understand their place in the world and learn more about who they are and other people.
His No. 1 word of advice: “Learn the three most spoken languages in the world.”
Leiner won’t be back in the United States again until June 2012. He is looking forward to get back home but said he is enjoying every second he has left in Beijing.