Several George Washington University students and recent graduates joined Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton last week to celebrate the launch of the 100 Thousand Strong Foundation, which will work to expand opportunities for American students to learn Mandarin and study abroad in China.
At the Jan. 24 launch event at the State Department, Secretary Clinton said that forging a successful future relationship between these two major world powers cannot be left to diplomats alone.
“Relationships government to government are obviously essential,” she said. “But it is those people-to-people ties that are going to determine the quality of the relationship for the future.”
The 100 Thousand Strong Foundation will extend the goals of the Obama administration’s “100 Thousand Strong Initiative,” which President Obama initially launched in 2010. The goal of that initiative was to encourage 100,000 American students to study in China in the subsequent four-year period. The 100 Thousand Strong Foundation will deepen U.S.-China relations via cultural and educational exchanges, government support for students, an annual conference on U.S.-China strategic partnerships and independent studies investigating the effect of U.S. study abroad programs in China.
GW has a strong history of cooperation with Chinese universities, researchers and teachers, said Donna Scarboro, associate provost for international programs.
“Students who come to GW from China and those who go from the GW campus to study in China create vital connections for the future,” she said. “Through academic exchange, GW students engage in the adventure as well as the responsibility of public diplomacy. Their knowledge, language skills and friendships will provide the expertise and enthusiasm needed for lasting cooperation.”
Carola McGiffert, president of the foundation, called it an important platform to talk about the strategic significance of U.S.-China relations.
"We’re really focused on sending the message that we must invest in educating our young people, who will be managing this critical relationship going forward,” she said. “There is no more important bilateral relationship than that between the United States and China, whether you’re talking about trying to address climate change or global financial instability or nuclear nonproliferation.”
Involving the George Washington University and GW students in the launch effort was a natural choice, Ms. McGiffert said.
“GW is incredibly well positioned,” she said. “It’s a very diverse community with terrific schools and a strong team.”
She recommended that GW students—regardless of background—consider China for study abroad. “It’s life-transforming on a personal basis, but also creates other opportunities. I haven’t met a student who hasn’t had their worldview changed by their experience in China.”
The 100 Thousand Strong Foundation will also work on encouraging and supporting students with little or no prior Mandarin training to study in China, Ms. McGiffert said. Several Chinese universities are already teaching courses in disciplines like history and mathematics in English, which will allow non-language students to participate in study abroad programs and then begin Mandarin training while in China.
GW student Fawziyya Muhammad was one of those students who traveled to China without any previous language training. An economics major and Gilman Scholarship recipient, she studied at Peking University in spring 2011. When she returned—speaking conversational Mandarin—she established a Gilman alumni organization at GW to connect other scholarship recipients and help them to continually benefit from their experiences abroad. She said GW students in particular can benefit from immersion in Chinese culture.
“We have students [at GW] who are interning and working closely with the [U.S.] government, and who go on afterward to obtain jobs with the government. So it’s important for GW students. We really have an advantage.”
Junior Cheyenne Brewbaker, who spent six months in an intensive Chinese-language program where no English was allowed, said her experience in China was life-changing. Now, her dream job would be to act as a translator or interpreter for the executive branch, she said.
“Language is a lot of fun, but also, right away you’ll notice how your career options open up,” she said. “And everywhere I go, I find chances to speak Chinese. I helped someone on the Metro the other day during the inauguration. They were shocked that I spoke Mandarin.”
Junior Dan Rosenberg spent fall 2012 in Beijing. Although he had two years of Mandarin under his belt, he chose to study in China for cultural reasons. As an anthropology major, he conducted fieldwork on ethnic identity and feelings of national pride in Chinese society.
“The relationship between the U.S. and China today is, in my opinion, one of the most dynamic the world has known,” he said. “China has 1.4 billion people. It’s a bastion of energy, and it’s important to get to know that culture.”