Studying abroad remains vital ingredient of US foreign policy

Knowledge and understanding of other countries dispels stereotypes

Citing an old Chinese saying, personal experience and a handful of examples, US first lady Michelle Obama avidly encouraged students to study abroad in “a new era of citizen diplomacy” on Saturday.

“As the Chinese saying goes: It is better to travel 10,000 miles than to read 10,000 books,” she told more than 100 students when delivering a 15-minute speech at the Stanford Center at Peking University.

“We believe that relationships between nations aren’t just about relationships between governments or leaders. They’re about relationships between people, particularly our young people,” said the Harvard-educated lawyer from a working-class family.

Calling study abroad programs “a vital part of America’s foreign policy”, Obama said study abroad could help young people from different countries better cooperate with each other and know they all have a stake in each other’s success, and then to tackle their shared challenges.

“No country can confront them alone, the only way forward is together,” she said, citing issues including climate change and economic opportunities.

Wang Enge, president of Peking University, echoed Obama’s view, saying “mutual understanding is the very first step” for China to fully integrate into, and be fully accepted by, the world.

Wang also spoke of his anticipation of more US students coming to China, including Obama’s two teenage daughters joining Peking University, which triggered applause from the audience.

Christianna Madson, a 23-year-old US student at Peking University, said foreign students, representing their own country, could be a

cultural bridge to carry out citizen diplomacy.

“The more you know a country, the more you dispel the stereotypes,” said the student majoring in linguistics.

Madson, who learned Chinese for five years, said she planned to work in China to continue “building the bridge” as more foreign companies and organizations came to China and more Chinese enterprises kept expanding throughout the world.

According to the US first lady, China is currently the fifth most popular destination for Americans studying abroad.

“The US government actually supports more American students in China than in any other country in the world,” she said.

In 2009, US President Barack Obama announced the 100,000 Strong Initiative to encourage more US students to pursue studies in China.

China is the largest source of foreign students to US universities with more than 200,000 students studying there.

Zhang Yunqi, a sophomore at Peking University, said her willingness to study in the US became stronger after hearing the strong support from Michelle Obama.

“I believe it will be a trend for the US to be more open to Chinese students, with more scholarships provided,” she said.

Jia Qingguo, dean of the School of International Studies at Peking University, said the US also wants China to be more open.

“The differences between the two countries should not necessarily force them to be antagonistic to each other. Instead, it calls for understanding and cooperation,” he said.

Michelle Obama, who is on a weeklong maiden trip to China with her daughters and mother, has sought to promote education and youth empowerment since her arrival in Beijing on Thursday.

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