When my classmate asked me to be one of the participants in her video project, I didn’t imagine that a few minutes after the shoot began, I would burst out crying in front of the camera. What I was asked to do was very simple. I just had to call someone I love and open up my feelings to her.
The moment I was about to call my mom, I felt nervous and uncomfortable. How would I tell my mom that I’m grateful for her and I really miss and love her when I had almost never said that to her? It seemed so hard and even a bit scary. I finally called and said these words, “Mom, I’m really grateful for your unconditional love and support for me. I missed you a lot but I was worried that I would make you feel sad if I said that. But I want to let you know that I really miss you and I love you.” I saw my mom wiping her tears away in the video chat window. My voice was trembling and my tears kept falling down. I finally expressed my gratitude and my love which I had suppressed for so long to her and I felt so relieved and happy by doing so.
I couldn’t thank my classmate, Susan, enough for asking me to participate in her Thanksgiving challenge project that she created. Because of this challenge, all of the participants and I have come to realize how important it is to show our gratitude to our loved ones.
My classmate, Susan Tai, a student in the Communication Leadership Program at the University of Washington, came up with this Thanksgiving challenge as her project for the class called “Leadership Through Story and Community: Creativity and the Digital Age” taught by the Associate Director, Anita Crofts. Susan created a video featuring 9 students from 6 different countries, including America, Brazil, Japan, China, Libya and Mongolia. The participants didn’t know about the challenge in advance. They were asked to think of someone important to them on the spot and write down some descriptions of that person. Then they were asked to call that person and read off the sentences they had written down to let the person guess who they were talking about. At last, they told the person the answer and thanked him or her.
During my interview with Susan, She said that she was surprised by people’s reactions to this challenge. Neither Susan nor the participants thought that anyone would cry in front of the camera. Initially, she thought that it would be a funny video but the unexpected happened when people started to pour their hearts out to their loved ones.
One participant read a letter to his friend who passed away in the revolution war in Libya. He regretted not having expressed his love and gratitude to his best friend while he still could. Now he treasures every opportunity he can spend time with his friends and family and tell them his feelings. Another participant called her grandma for the first time after she came to Seattle in September this year. She cried when her grandma said that she was happy to hear that she loves her and is thankful for her. Those who received the phone calls were all surprised and moved. All these natural reactions and all the heartwarming confessions in this video made it a great demonstration of the importance of expressing our emotions and feelings towards the people in our lives that we are grateful for.
When Susan presented her project in the final class, her classmates said that they were deeply touched by it. One male student walked away while the video was playing. He later came back to the classroom and told Susan that he left halfway because he couldn’t hold back his tears and he didn’t want others to see. He said this video made him want to call his parents who live in another country and express his gratitude for them.
Susan’s motivation for the project lies in her observation of cultural differences in self-expression. As an international student from China, she noticed the differences between Chinese and American culture when it comes to self-expression. Her research shows that a lot of people, especially in eastern Asian cultures have difficulty expressing their emotions. Although modern technology allows people to communicate to each other despite the physical distance through video or audio call, it doesn’t make people more expressive. Technology provides opportunities for people to connect with each other, but what creates deep emotional connections is the will and action to speak out their feelings.
“This project is a bridge that connects people. It’s just a start. Sometimes we just need an opportunity to express our gratitude. And this thanksgiving challenge project provides such an opportunity for people”
Susan was motivated to encourage people to express their feelings more. Initially, she wanted to ask people from diverse cultural backgrounds to do the same facial expressions to show emotions such as happy or surprised in order to see the cultural differences. After receiving feedback from her classmates and the course instructor, she developed this Thanksgiving challenge video project to study people’s natural reactions. “This project is a bridge that connects people. It’s just a start. Sometimes we just need an opportunity to express our gratitude. And this thanksgiving challenge project provides such an opportunity for people” said Susan.
Susan also shared that she truly appreciates the support she received from her cohort and her course instructor. “Anita’s class created a space of psychological safety. I felt free to express my thoughts in class although my English is not that good. Anita encouraged us to speak up. Everyone is so supportive in our class.” The Comm Lead community inspired and helped Susan to realize her passion project through her creativity and talents.
If you are touched by this project, take the Thanksgiving challenge! Call someone you love or talk to him or her in person. Speak out how thankful you are to those who truly matter to you. Start from today and make it a habit. You might cry, you might laugh. One thing for certain is doing so will bring joy to you and those you love.
“Thank you and I love you.” #ThanksgivingChallenge #SpeakOutGratitude