BEIJING, Sept. 16 (Xinhua) -- Matteo Giovannini and his wife took a day off to chill out in downtown Beijing on his birthday. The couple was discussing where to go for the upcoming "golden week" holiday. They were having a "difficult" time choosing between Guangzhou or Hangzhou.
"We both like Cantonese cuisine, but I've always wanted to go to Hangzhou," said the Italian who has been living in China for eight years.
Giovannini is no stranger to the vast land and diverse cultures of China. But a recent tour to Hebei Province as a participant of the Global Young Leaders Dialogue (GYLD) program impressed him a lot.
"The Hebei tour represented a bridge between the past, present and future," he described.
Their first stop at Xibaipo took him through the revolutionary past of the Communist Party of China. In Xiong'an New Area, he saw "how the future could look like" in terms of a smart city, where technologies such as 5G and artificial intelligence are used.
When the trip ended, he and the other foreign participants of GYLD wrote a letter to President Xi Jinping. In the letter, they expressed their desire to be a bridge to promote exchanges and dialogues between China and the rest of the world.
Xi responded to them in a letter and commended the young international group's efforts to deepen their understanding of China by visiting various parts of the country. He encouraged them to promote exchanges and mutual learning further and contribute to building a community with a shared future for humanity.
"The participants are from different parts of the world and different cultures. So we share how we see China from our own perspective. We then merge these different perspectives and come to our own conclusions of the country," he explained.
Looking back, during the time he worked as a financial controller in the media industry in Milan, Giovannini became attracted to the Chinese culture. So he decided to apply for a Confucius Institute scholarship. In the summer of 2013, he was enrolled in Liaoning Normal University and spent a year studying the Chinese language and culture in the coastal city of Dalian.
The year flew by, and his studies were coming to an end. But his China story was just getting started. Shortly after, he enrolled at the BiMBA Business School of National School of Development at Peking University. The program rekindled his aspiration to work in the financial services sector.
His undergraduate degree in economics enabled him to focus on finance and business administration courses, later serving him well. Then, an "amazing opportunity" came when the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), one of China's major banks, was recruiting foreign talents to promote its internationalization strategy.
The competition was fierce, but he succeeded and got the job. It was the second time doors were opened for him in China, all before he was about to leave to head back to Italy.
Six years later and Giovannini still works for ICBC, but now as a senior finance manager. He says he has come to understand better the difference between the Western and Chinese corporate cultures.
As one of the few foreign employees, he doesn't feel uncomfortable and gets along with his Chinese colleagues very well "because most of them have overseas experience and the language used at work is mostly English."
He even joined the ICBC tennis team as one of their best players, and as a group, they won second place in a tournament for financial institutions in Beijing.
Aside from work, on a personal level, he also developed an understanding of Chinese culture from a family aspect. He met his Beijing-local wife when they bumped into each other in Wudaokou, the city's university area, in 2016. Two years later, they got married.
Having been in China for so long, Giovannini plans to apply for a permanent residence permit.
In the future, the couple plan to have a baby and have even thought of their future child studying at a public school instead of an international one because he believes "local schools are better in teaching maths."
Talking about his entire experience, Giovannini says, "Italians are travelers that go around the world to make discoveries and understand different cultures. I'm just following Marco Polo and Matteo Ricci's same footsteps."
"You have to get out of your comfort zone," he added.