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Enjoying an American Summer [Postal Life magazine]

by Hope Katz Gibbs
Postal Life magazine
June 1999

WHILE PRESIDENT CLINTON WAS ON a diplomatic mission in Beijing in June, postal employees entertained eight delegates from the China Organizing Committee of the 22nd Universal Postal Union (UPU) Congress were in Washington, DC on a mission of their own.

For five weeks, the delegates from Beijing polished up their grammar skills so they can better communicate with their English-speaking counterparts who will arrive in Beijing this August for the 22nd UPU conference.

“If the hosts of the UPU Congress can fluently speak English, French and Spanish, they will be able to communicate with more than 90 percent of the visiting postal delegates,” says James P. Wade, manager of International Marketing and Sales at the Postal Service. “I understand that while the eight Chinese delegates were in Washington studying English, some of their Chinese Secretariat colleagues were in Paris studying French. UPU members are really one big family worldwide and always glad to help each other,” Wade says.

The Chinese delegates were eager to make the most of their learning opportunity. From 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day, the diligent students hit the books with two English teachers from the Maryland English Institute at the University of Maryland. Three evenings a week, they studied with an English tutor to perfect their conversational skills.

Despite the hard work, the trip was a treat, says group leader Wang Shengzhi, the deputy director and chief engineer of the Department of Logistics and Equipment. “For all eight of us, being selected to come to America and improve our English was a great honor.”

Of course, the U.S. excursion wasn’t all work and no play. In between study sessions, the Chinese dignitaries sampled hotdogs and sipped from tall cups of Budweiser beer at an Orioles game, and spent an entire day shopping for souvenirs at the mile-long Potomac Mills mall.

The Chinese also got a taste of American hospitality.

“I wanted the delegates to feel what it is like to be on summer vacation so I hosted a genuine American summer barbecue in my backyard,” says Sheila Daout, the international postal affairs specialist who guided the Chinese delegates during their stay. “I invited my friends and family; served hamburgers, spareribs and potato salad; and we all played several games of volleyball.”

Liu Qiye, who works in the Computer Center of the Chinese Secretariat of the 22nd UPU Congress, says the BBQ was the highlight of the trip.

“The classroom instruction and discussion were wonderful, but going to Sheila’s house and talking to her family and friends really helped to improve my English-speaking ability and gave me a good idea about what Americans do in their spare time,” she says.

Xu Nan, who prepares progress reports for the Secretariat, says she was especially taken by the friendliness of the Americans she met.

“In the U.S. it seems easy for strangers to get to know each other,” she says. “You are all so friendly. Even if you don’t know us, you come up and say hi and are eager to chat. That is very nice.”

A bit strange to the Chinese, they admit, was the American diet.

“You eat a lot of meat,” says project manager Liu Qiye. “Rice is the staple at each meal in China. It is accompanied by a series of flavorful side dishes, and often seafood is part of dinner. Here, red meat seems to be the staple. That is very different from us.”

Coffee too, the Chinese say, was strange compared with their traditional drink of hot tea—although members of the delegation say they enjoyed a cup of Starbucks.

“Perhaps the preferences aren’t so much cultural as they are individual and simply human,” group leader Wang says. “Witnessing the similarities in our cultures was most important to my learning experience. It helped me and the other delegates to get beyond cultural barriers.”

Helping postal partners to move beyond barriers is exactly why the United States Postal Service is reaching out to the Chinese, explains Jim Grubiak, vice president of International Business.

“Teaching the Chinese delegates English is important because if they know English, and also understand the American way of life, it is easier to build a strong business relationship between the two countries,” Grubiak says. “The experience of having had the delegates here, and getting to know them on a personal level, has been a very positive one. I feel the Postal Service is that much closer to having a successful and solid partnership with China.”

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"I get by with a little help from my friends," says Hope, who gives special thanks to:

• MICHAEL GIBBS, website illustration and design: www.michaelgibbs.com
• MAX KUKOY, website development: www.maxwebworks.com
• STEVE BARRETT, portrait of Hope on Bio page: www.stevebarrettphotography.com

Contact HOPE KATZ GIBBS by phone [703-346-6975] or email.

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