This article is a part of the East-West Center - US-China Strong Foundation Guest Contributor Program, which shares the experiences of American students currently or previously studying in China.
After the success of the 100,000 Strong Initiative in 2014, United States president Barack Obama and Chinese president Xi Jinping returned in 2015 with the launch of “1 Million Strong”, an initiative to have 1 million American students learn Mandarin Chinese by 2020. The strong emphasis placed in connecting the two is quite obvious, but not without merit. Strengthening the relationship between the United States and China is very beneficial to both parties, and perhaps, one of the best ways to do so is by studying abroad.
With the United States currently having the world’s largest economy, and China following closely behind, it is evident that the two countries will remain intertwined in future affairs. Being able to speak Chinese and having had firsthand experience living in China will be advantageous in terms of employment. Furthermore, despite the affordability of China, its universities offer various majors and programs that have been highly revered. This means that not only are students studying in China getting an internationally recognized high quality education, but they also have money leftover that can be used to further that education through experiences gained outside of school. They can explore the culture-rich land through the public bus system, hop on the subway, or take an inexpensive train to more distant destinations.
As students move into the professional world, they must learn to interact with people of many different backgrounds and views, and there is not a better place to learn such skills than in China. With an area of 9.5 million square kilometers, China has a huge variety of climates, cultures, and landscapes. The northeastern city Harbin is famous for its ice festival in their -13 degree winters, whereas the southern island of Hainan is sunny all year long. Consisting of many ethnicities and minority groups, travelling to new provinces may seem like entering into new countries to even local Chinese travelors, since they each have their own dialects and customs.
As President Obama put it, “if our countries are going to do more together around the world, then speaking each other’s language, truly understanding each other, is a good place to start.” The understanding gained from studying abroad, however, goes beyond just language. With the time spent living in a completely foreign land, and the immersion that is done, students are able to better understand the impact that values and culture have on both people in China, and on themselves.
Jeanie Fung is a high school student from Houston, Texas, and is part of the US-China Strong Foundation Student Ambassador Program.