The Marathon Exchange and International Friendships

For some, running is simply an exercise, but for GCSCI it’s a way to deepen our relationships abroad. This year we welcomed 6 international athletes from our sister cities of Curitiba, Brazil and Hefei, China to participate in the Nationwide Children’s Columbus Marathon. The week included various activities that focused on engaging the runners and their host families in citywide events. The marathon allowed individuals within Columbus to establish new friendships with the international marathon ambassadors. But for Agnes Igodan and Yayu Liu, these friendships are not quite new.

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I got the opportunity to sit down with Agnes and Yayu to discuss their experiences as both hosts and runners. Agnes talked about her trip to Hefei, China last year as one of GCSCI’s first marathon ambassadors. There she lived with Liu Hua and his wife,Wang Ping, along with their three children. In Hefei, Agnes began her friendship with Yayu Liu, who was hosting another Columbus runner. After returning home from China, Agnes decided to reverse roles and open up her home to Yayu, who she affectionately refers to as Echo, for this year’s marathon.

I first asked Yayu about her most difficult challenge in coming to the U.S., which she answered unhesitatingly with a single word: “Language.” However, I noticed that this problem was easily overcome by communication with Agnes. I was impressed by Agnes and Yayu’s ability to cooperate in conversation. When Yayu couldn’t think of a word or location, Agnes was more than happy to help her explain. It was inspiring to see the two women overcoming the language barrier with patience and laughter.

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We then moved on to a discussion of the week’s events. Yayu shared with me some of her favorite moments in Columbus. She was particularly excited about her involvement in what she dubbed the “American lifestyle” through her homestay experience. By staying with Agnes, Yayu told me that that she was better able to get a feel for American culture. She got to experience both the urban lifestyle in downtown Columbus by living with Agnes, and the suburban/rural lifestyle by exploring Circleville and Hocking Hills. We talked about the differences between life in China and the U.S., and she explained that there were few houses in her city due to the high population. We laughed about how Columbus might be considered a small, peaceful city if it were located in China, which tends to have huge urban populations. Agnes then told me that because of this, one evening Yayu excitedly set off on her own for a walk in the neighborhood to enjoy the tranquil, fall atmosphere.

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We also discussed Yayu’s tour of the OSU campus and the Statehouse. She explained to us that she really enjoyed the Statehouse visit, because it was her first trip to a governmental building, as most are not open to the public in China. She also mentioned that she was impressed by OSU’s recreational center and noted that gyms were not common on Chinese campuses, such as the one Yayu teaches at.

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This brought us on to a discussion about fitness, something that I could tell Yayu was very passionate about. Yayu explained to us that marathons and running are starting to gain popularity in China and that in the past two years she has seen a huge increase in the number of community marathons. Yayu hopes to share her experience meeting with the Short North Running Club with her local club, the Happy Running Group. Yayu also wants to encourage more families in Hefei to host runners or even come to the U.S. for future exchanges. She explained that some of her friends in China do not fully understand the meaning or purpose of the exchange. Even though Yayu understands that its difficult to get a visa (three of the runners were not able to make it because it was taking to long), and that travel is expensive and time consuming, she emphasized that the benefits far outweigh the costs.

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Agnes was also very excited to host Yayu. She explained that it was great to see all of the friends that she made the previous year in China participating in the Columbus Marathon. I could easily tell that Yayu and Agnes were excellent friends and that they would genuinely miss one another. Yayu and Agnes shared their desire to participate in and host future marathon ambassadors. They joked about their ten-year visas to each other’s countries, agreeing that they had plenty of time to visit one another in the future.

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Author: Kaile Kilner

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