While globalization and the Internet are making the world a smaller place, stark differences still exist between countries and cultures, said Dr. Yanping Li, who has been a visiting scholar at the Duke Center for International Development (DCID) since July 2014. During her final presentation on Thursday, April 16, she shared some of the differences between the U.S. and her home country of China. 

Her observations ranged from the everyday – such as the habit of standing in line – to the more complex, including the difficulty of registering as a nonprofit organization. She also pointed out social differences that she found surprising when she arrived in the U.S.

“Everyone speaks at a very low volume in restaurants,” she said, “But in China if you want to find the best restaurant you see which one has the loudest volume.”

Another aspect of American culture that surprised her was the impression that everyone had the same status, she said. In China, the company director would be immediately identifiable from his or her office size and position at the table. She also noted that, while the U.S. seems to value independence and self-reliance, China puts more emphasis on close relationships and mutual support.

One distinction she praised about the U.S. was its focus on health and the environment. While she said these are areas in which China can improve, she added that the Internet has been a powerful tool for change.

“You can complain about food safety issues, environmental crises, water shortages, and it will spread very quickly,” she said.

One of the most striking differences Li noticed was in her area of study: nonprofit organizations.

In 2013 there were more than 500,000 registered NGOs in China, compared with approximately 1.5 million tax-exempt organizations in the U.S. This does not include the millions of organizations in the U.S. that are not required to register because their annual budgets are less than $5,000.

While this low number of nonprofits in China can be attributed to the fact that it is a relatively new sector, Li also noted that the process of registering nonprofits is much more grueling in China. All nonprofits have to have a government agency sponsor in order to register.

“In the U.S., the process for registering is very easy and you also have tax benefits,” she said.

She also noted differences in teaching styles and methodologies between the two countries. When she first came to the U.S., she said, she was amazed that students were encouraged to share their opinions in class and openly disagree with the professors.

“In China, if you debate with the teacher, you will not be welcome,” she said with a laugh.

Li was born and raised in the coastal city of Qingdao, which she jokes is most famous for producing Tsingtao beer. She is the director of the Social Policy Research Institute at Shandong University of Science and Technology, which is also located in Qingdao.

She ended her presentation by thanking the faculty and staff at DCID for their support during her ten months in the U.S.

“I especially appreciate the help and support I’ve received since I arrived here,” she said. “I look forward to the opportunity to stay connected when I return to my country.”

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