I say all the time that I am NOT a matchmaker. Then I read a book called the Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, and it described some people as a “Connector.” It said, a Connector is someone “with an extraordinary knack of making friends and acquaintances. Gladwell said that Connectors are an elite group of people so expert in cultivating connections that they are the reason the rest of us are connected.” Yep, that was me alright!
I love connecting people together that might have common interests and then stepping back to watch the magic happen. And to be clear, it's not necessarily a romantic connection I’m talking about, but usually network, business, or casual friendships.
A few years ago I made such a connection. And, like meeting someone new and then pondering what this relationship will be like in the future, I never knew this connection between Rachel and Sharon would become so important to all of us.
Rachel was a Public Relations major at Harding University and graduated in 2015. As a PR major she was required to take my Introduction to Advertising class. Rachel lights up a room with her soft and endearing nature, and her smile. She is outgoing, friendly and loves to talk to everybody! She is also, as she was training to be, a great writer. I really didn’t know of her writing prowess until later, but more of that story later.
Each year I have Ed or Pam Mosby, the directors of a program that recruits English teachers for Chinese universities, come to my American communication classes to take about five minutes and tell of the opportunities that these students have in front of them. They recruit students to move to China and teach English AFTER they graduate. Most of my students are freshman or sophomores, so even though they may be interested, they have to file this away for a couple of years before giving it some serious consideration. Rachel Weiss did just that. Over the next two years we met in my office several times for her to ask questions about what it would be like living and working in China? I never really knew if she would actually go to China until Ed and Pam informed me that she indeed was all signed up to go.
I could blubber on and on about my admiration of Rachel Weiss. She’s beautiful (inside and out), talented, outgoing, loving, fun, never seems to be down, giving, energetic, has great people skills and absolutely loves what she does, (teaching English to university students in China). Plus, I have never seen a group of students, Chinese or otherwise, that is as crazy about their teacher, as much as these Chinese students are about Rachel. If I am in another class in China, and I mention that Rachel was one of my students in America, they swoon at the sound of her name and tell everybody that she is the best teacher they’ve ever had! And rightfully so, She. Is. Amazing! I playfully once told Rachel’s mother that if Rachel was ever available for adoption that I would be the first in line! Wendy Weiss, returned the jesting comment with, “If you’ll pick up her school loan payments you can have her now!”
Liang “Sharon” Yuncong
The first minute Liang Yuncong walked into my Principles of Communications class I could tell she was poised, confident, warm, friendly… and beautiful! My new student, who, went by the name of Sharon, looked like she was ready for a photo shoot! Which, I found out later, was her one of her passions. Being a model was something for which Sharon had been working as in China for a few years, even though she was relatively young to be doing so. She was a Broadcast Hosting major in China and had now transferred to Harding University. Because Harding did not have this exact major she chose to pursue Theatre and Advertising while she was enrolled here. Sharon wanted to work in television as a spokesperson, morning show host, and even being the talent in television commercials.
One of the things that I noticed immediately in my class interactions with her, was her willingness to stand up and speak with such ease. She loved the art of theatre and unlike most students in my speech class, she liked to be in front of people speaking. I remember thinking, Wow, she does this so naturally and it seems to come so easy to her. When she had to actually prepare her speeches and deliver them she did great! I later found out that as a working model she in fact was also employed from time to time as a television talent starring in commercials in China. With her outgoing personality I quickly became friends with her on more than just a professor/student relationship. I wanted to be her mentor so that I could help her navigate her way through our advertising major for which she was so perfectly suited. I told Sharon many times that she could be so much more than a model, (no offense to models intended here), but that she could be a creative communicator of advertising that would carry her long into a future, more so than the pretty face in front of the camera. Sharon always smiled at me and listened to me as if I had some words of wisdom. The other thing that really struck me about Sharon was that she seemed to be friends with everybody. It was pretty obvious, to me, at least , that many of the boys wanted to be with her, and many of the girls to wanted to be like her. Sharon probably intimidated the boys more than she knows. She was outgoing, friendly and welcomed everybody into her circle of friends. PLUS, Sharon was very anxious to improve her English skills, so I wanted to help her.
The very first assignment that I always give my Chinese students in my Principles of Communication class is what is often referred to as an “Elevator” speech. This is essentially a self-introduction. Many people say, that’s not really a speech! But au contraire my friend. It is a speech! It may only be :30 seconds long but it will be done often for the rest of your life so learn to do it well. Those that can master the art of introducing themselves in a creative and compelling manner are remembered long after a normal introduction. That could prove very valuable in career, business, and other social settings. So, yes, I teach my students how to be able to extemporaneously stand up and give a speech to introduce themselves. Everybody should learn to do this well!
Most of my Chinese students are very shy or feel like their English isn’t good enough to mix with the American students so they are terrified with this assignment. To help my students with this assignment, I recruit some outgoing, popular American students (or foreigners with good English language skills) to meet some new friends. The Chinese students, after a couple of days of lecture and in-class practice, now have to go out of the classroom, onto the campus, and meet 10 new friends. They have to introduce themselves to people they do not know, and they cannot be other Chinese students. My students are paired up with my recruited volunteers and off they go to give their elevator speeches. At the conclusion of their assignment, the students and my recruited assistants meet back at the Student Center, or Starbucks, to talk about their experience and to have a cup of coffee or other drink of their choice, (my treat).
Now the Connector in me…
In the Spring semester of 2013 I paired Rachel Weiss and Liang Yuncon together. I had no idea what this was going to do for both of them as they moved forward in life through Harding and beyond. After this class assignment Rachel and Sharon remained friends. In fact, they might even refer to each other as “BFF’s.”
Sharon went through Harding as the ever present hostess at the many Chinese events, on stage and off. Her ability to stand in front of a group made everybody else on stage around her, that were sometimes novices at this, look like they were seasoned pros. I was always so proud of her. I felt like I had a little (a very, very little) part of her success.
After three years Rachel moved to China to teach and Sharon had gone home to pursue her modeling career. Rachel moved to Hengyang and Sharon to Guangzhou. I remember walking through Guangzhou a year or so later and seeing Sharon in a newspaper and magazine ads. Sharon was a recognizable personality in China, she even had a song out on the Chinese charts! Even though they were in different cities Sharon and Rachel remained friends and took the time to meet as often as they could. In 2017 Rachel left her job teaching University students English and moved to Guangzhou to teach Kindergartener's English. Her new job was in the same town as Sharon. Rachel has a blog called Rachel Meets China. (https://rachelmeetschina.wordpress.com/2018/07/04/20-things-i-learned-teaching-english-at-a-kindergarten-in-china/). You must read her posts regarding teaching these cute little Chinese children. You will have a glimpse into what Rachel is to other people in this world, and particularly Chinese 5-year olds.
This May (2018), as I was preparing to visit my peeps in Guangzhou, Rachel and Sharon were high on my “must see” list. And, I wanted to see them together! I can say that I was the reason they met each other when they did. They may have found their way to each other at some other time, but I can proudly say I introduced them to each other and the rest, as they say, is history.
WeChat is wonderful thing in China. WeChat is such a powerful social media tool. It has Messenger services, Facebook qualities, even WeChat PAY so that you can just scan your QR code to pay for almost everything in China. I also love the Map and Direction features of WeChat. You can “drop a pin” on a map and send that to somebody else for directions both driving and walking. I would often ask one of my Chinese students or friends to simply “drop a pin” for me and then I could show it to the Taxi Driver, or even walk if it was close enough. You can create a group of just three people and send messages to each of them asking for times, dates and meeting places.
Because Sharon is from Guangzhou, she had all the responses as to where we could meet. Rachel had been in Guangzhou for a year now and knew how to get around the city pretty easily on the subway so anywhere Sharon chose to meet was fine with both me and Rachel. Sharon chose a restaurant that was within walking distance of my hotel. She said that it didn’t open until 5:30 and that the line to get in would be long. Neither Sharon nor Rachel could be there by 5:30 but thought they could do so soon after that. “No problem,” I said, “I can get over there early and get us a table.”
As I sat at our table awaiting my two guests I explained, as best I could that I had two more people coming to join me. The Fúwùyuán (waiter) smiled and acted like she knew what I was saying. She tried to say something in English and we just looked at each other and laughed. Soon, the smiling face and bouncing blonde haired Rachel came and gave me a big hug. We both mentioned that this was the third year in a row that we had met in China! The waiter had escorted her to my table and asked, “Zhè shì nǐ de nǚ'ér ma?, (Is this your daughter)? Recalling what Rachel’s mother once told me about her school loans I laughingly said, Bu, nǐ shì de Xuéshēng, (no, she’s my student). Rachel and I caught up with the deets of each other’s life for about twenty minutes before Sharon showed up. As we met and visited we looked at the digital menu the restaurant had. I’m sure there are many menus like this everywhere in the world but it was my first experience using this. We used our fingers to turn pages on the screen tapping things we might want to order, and many things for which we wanted to ask Sharon about when she arrived.
Sharon soon came walking up and greeted both of us warmly, Rachel, who has been learning Chinese spoke to her in Chinese and we all sat down. Sharon looked stunning! She had on a bright yellow and white dress that just made her shine! She looked like she may have just come from a modeling gig.
After all of the normal meet and greet talk we got down to looking at the menu again. Sharon explained that once we decided we just had to tap the menu item at a certain order box on the screen and the food would soon be delivered, without a waitress actually coming to the table to take our order. As usually is the case when eating out in China, the hostess ordered way too much food for the three of us!
There was a long line of people waiting to get a table. This restaurant had a time limit on our table. We were only allowed to sit there for 90 minutes from the time I arrived. That was not a problem with our eating, but we wanted to visit more and needed to go somewhere else. I suggested we go back to my temporary residence and cut open and share the watermelon that Weny’s baba had given me? Off we went…
I wanted to know all about Sharon’s amazing career in television and advertising, and I wanted to hear more about the new job that Rachel had just accepted. As I said earlier, Rachel is a great writer. She started a blog when she first went to China to start teaching and has gained many, many followers. In fact, it was her blog success that encouraged me to start writing this blog. Rachel wrote about her teaching job, travels and people that she had experienced for the last three years. A marketing business located in Beijing started following her. This business recruits Americans to move to China for work and travel. They wanted Rachel to come on board as their Social Media Director, continue writing her blog, write their blog, and generally extol the virtues of living in China! Rachel moves to Beijing this summer right after her school year ends and she makes a quick trip home to Texas to see family and friends. I am so proud of her, and I am so happy that I had a minuscule part of getting her to China!
After another 90 minutes of laughing and story telling it was time to part ways once again. I hate goodbyes… I don’t know if I will ever see Rachel again, but if I am ever going through Beijing I am sure to “drop a pin” to meet her somewhere!
Sharon? I may not meet here again either, (I hope I do), but I’m sure I will see her pretty face all over the Chinese media!
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Steve Shaner, also known as Xie Yeye, is a professional story teller that delights in traveling to meet new and old friends. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.