100 Thousand Strong: Students Strengthen U.S.-China Relations

National conference supported by GW’s Confucius Institute gathers college students interested in China.

A panel of students, including GW sophomore Mark Schaefer (center), discuss their experiences in China at the 100,000 Strong Reunion conference.
November 19, 2014
Students from colleges around the country came together at the George Washington University on Tuesday and Wednesday with one goal: increasing the number of American students studying in China.
The mission is part of the Obama administration’s “100,000 Strong Initiative,” which hopes to get more American students traveling to China. President Obama’s efforts inspired the creation of the 100,000 Strong Foundation, launched by then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in Jan. 2013. The foundation focuses on encouraging young generations of Americans learning Mandarin and studying in China.
Through its Student Ambassador Program, the 100,000 Strong Foundation selects 100 students each year who represent a broad and diverse range of American experiences. With support from the organization, these students travel to China and share their experiences with others upon returning.
On Tuesday, the foundation held a conference at the Jack Morton Auditorium that allowed Student Ambassadors to meet one another and encourage more cultural exchanges between China and the United States. The 1.5-day event, cosponsored by GW’s Confucius Institute and the Education Office of Embassy of the People’s Republic of China, included a series of discussions, panels and activities. 
The event started with a welcome from 100,000 Strong Foundation President Carola McGiffert, GW Provost Steven Lerman and Fang Maotian, the education minister counselor at the Chinese Embassy. Dr. Lerman explained that the foundation and its Student Ambassadors embody GW’s own focus on Chinese cultural studies.
“100,000 Strong has a similar mission to one of the key pillars of our strategic plan globalization,” Dr. Lerman said, adding that more than one-third of GW’s international student population comes from China.
Following introductory remarks, students participated in a team-building activity in which they brainstormed ways to get young American children to engage with Chinese culture. The icebreaker was led by Jessica Beinecke, the founder and host of Crazy Fresh Chinese, a Web series that teaches Americans words in Chinese slang. 
Students pitched ideas ranging from television shows to free online modules. The two winning teams blended Chinese cuisine with language lessons to attract young Americans early.
The conference also included a viewing of “Beyond the Wall,” a documentary about four teenagers from Washington, D.C., who get the opportunity to study abroad in China. One of the students featured in the documentary, George Mason University senior Jeffrey Wood, took the stage at the conference to share advice about first-time visits to foreign countries in a panel discussion after the film.
“If you’re contemplating or thinking about studying abroad, just go abroad,” Mr. Wood said. “If there’s a part of you that’s thinking about it, there’s a part of you that really wants to go.”
GW sophomore Mark Schaefer, a 2013 winner of the Jiangsu Cup language competition, also participated in the panel and encouraged students to improve their Chinese skills by speaking confidently and fearlessly.
“From a linguistic perspective, over exaggerate. Don’t be afraid if you sound wrong—you’re probably right,” he said.
The conference concluded with a full day of workshops and breakout sessions focused on career advice, policy issues and study abroad discussions. Ms. Beinecke led an examination of how to blend Chinese language and social media, while representatives from the U.S. Department of State led a panel on the relevance of Chinese skills when it comes to jobs in the U.S. government. 
During breaks between sessions, students got a chance to mingle and meet some of the workshop leaders. Manuel Muratalla, a sophomore at Cerritos Community College, took some time to make short video blogs with Ms. Beinecke and reflect on his experience in China. He traveled to the country through the Confucius Institute and said his trip changed his entire career goals—now, he hopes to teach English abroad. The 100,000 Strong conference reaffirmed his interests and made him eager to return to China.
“It’s been great meeting people who share the same passions. Hearing all these testimonies and stories about going to China makes me want to go back and relive all those experiences again,” he said.