Exchange program launched

Jennifer Whitman '14 in China Daily (USA), January 25, 2013

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Initiative aims to have 100,000 US students in China next year

Jennifer Whitman, a student at New York's Fordham Law School, might never have planned for a career that would link her to China, but that prospect emerged from her study-abroad experience two years ago.

While attending Sichuan University's law school in southwestern China as a Fulbright scholar, she observed the impact of legal-aid outreach to local female migrant workers.

"My experience in Chengdu gave me a good idea of what it looks like to practice law in China," she said, referring to Sichuan's capital.

Whitman is among thousands of American students who have gone to China since 2010 through the 100,000 Strong Initiative. Announced by US President Barack Obama during his visit to China in November 2009 and launched in Beijing the following May by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the program aims to send 100,000 Americans to study in China by 2014.

"We focused on student exchanges because we believe that the future is very clearly in the hands of the young people of both of our countries," Clinton said at a State Department ceremony on Thursday for the launch of the 100,000 Strong Foundation, a nonprofit group that will carry out the initiative.

The foundation, based at American University in Washington, will go beyond the 100,000-student goal. It will engage in efforts to strengthen the bonds of student exchanges for years to come, said Clinton, who is expected to retire as secretary next week.

"The more we can foster exchanges and understanding, mutual trust, the better off not only the relationship will be, but each of our countries individually," she said.

Clinton recalled fondly her 2010 visit to the USA Pavilion at the Shanghai Expo. She found that the biggest attraction was American students, who had been studying Chinese, working as hosts and greeters.

"So many of these young people were first-generation college students in America who had just become taken with China, and so they were studying Chinese and now they were there as official representatives of the United States government," the former first lady said.

"Our relations, government-to-government, are obviously essential, but it is those people-to-people ties that are going to determine the quality of the relationship for the future.

"We want to see Chinese youngsters here, American youngsters in China, and we want to see them breaking down the barriers that exist between any peoples from different cultures and experiences and histories and backgrounds."

As more American students head to China, the number of Chinese on US campuses is at a record high. China sent just over 194,000 students to the United States for the 2011-12 academic year - about one-quarter of all international students here. That was 23 percent more than the number of Chinese students in the US the previous year.

China's ambassador to the US, Zhang Yesui, said the Chinese government continues to be a strong supporter of people-to-people exchanges, as it has been since the 100,000 Strong Initiative began. The government is offering 20,000 scholarships for American students to study in China.

During her visit to Washington two years ago, State Councilor Liu Yandong announced 10,000 Chinese government scholarships. To date, 6,535 Americans have received a scholarship through the program, according to Zhang.

"We believe people-to-people exchange is one of the main pillars of US-China relations I truly believe this initiative is a smart investment for the future," the ambassador said.

According to the Open Doors report, more than 26,000 US students took part in study-abroad activities in China during 2011.

Nancy Yao Maasbach, executive director of the Yale-China Association, said some Yale University alumni who studied in China are now working for companies there and the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai.

Whitman, the Fordham student, hopes to work in international law and live in China after she graduates.