BYU student uses language to build bridges in China

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McKenna Wright had an unexpected opportunity to speak the language she learned on a volunteer assignment for her church when BYU invited her to perform in China. Brigham Young University invited the Young Ambassadors, a dancing and singing group, to perform as a part of a tour called BYU Spectacular in the country. Wright, who is a performer in the group, excitedly accepted the invitation.

When Wright received her volunteer assignment to Taiwan in 2014, she had no idea that years later she would be going to China and have the opportunity to use the language she spoke while in Taiwan. While living in Taiwan, Wright enjoyed learning about the Taiwanese culture and studying Mandarin Chinese. She shared that it helped her develop a love for the Taiwanese and Chinese cultures which gave her a desire to integrate them into her life after her volunteer experience was completed.

“It was like a springboard where I was like, ‘Of course I want to make Chinese my minor at BYU,’” she said. “I want to learn everything I can and associate myself with people who are from China or Taiwan.”

As a member of the BYU Spectacular tour, Wright said she was able to help bridge the language gap between the Chinese people and Young Ambassadors. Wright’s Chinese came in handy one night in particular during the tour while in Xi’an when the Young Ambassadors decided to perform an impromptu flash mob dance out in the city at night. Wright helped the group communicate with the members of the crowd that had gathered to watch the flash mob dance.

After the performance, one man thanked Wright in Chinese for sharing her talent. “He said, ‘I’m very grateful to have met you guys and have made new American friends,’” said Wright. “I could just tell he was touched by the performance.”

Wright feels strongly that the American and Chinese people are more a like than they are different. “In my experience living in China and Taiwan I have found that we’re more a like than different for sure,” she expressed. “I think that we are both cultures that value family, friends and relationships a lot.”

McKenna Wright introduces the BYU China Spectacular with narration in fluent Mandarin. The audience cheers after the first sentence. (Steve Fidel)

Throughout her life, Wright has always tried to understand and empathize with those who have different ideas and beliefs from herself. “I try to understand what other people are feeling and to reach out to those who are in need,” she said. “And just interact with other people so I can share in their experience and emotions.”

Wright performed 6 times at the BYU Spectacular alongside 160 other performers from BYU in Beijing, Xi’an and Shanghai.

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