The School of International Service has long acknowledged the importance of diplomatic and cultural relations with China. SIS’s commitment to the region was further strengthened by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s announcement on Thursday of a new partnership with the non-profit 100,000 Strong Foundation.
The organization, which was announced at a U.S. Department of State event, is dedicated to encouraging more American students to study Mandarin and study abroad in China.
The 100,000 Strong Foundation, which will be housed at SIS, was borne out of a State Department initiative, which President Barack Obama announced in 2009. The foundation launched with seed funding from the Ford Foundation and the Florence Fang Family Foundation. It is also supported by the Chinese government, which has pledged to sponsor 20,000 scholarships for Americans to study in China.
The foundation will help fund a wide variety of study abroad opportunities, from language immersion programs to cultural and field-specific exchanges, with a focus on increasing participation from underrepresented communities. Through this investment in Chinese study abroad and language programs, the foundation hopes to bridge the gap between cultures while strengthening economic and strategic ties.
Nationally, interest in educational programs in China is on the rise. But the State Department is concerned that it’s not enough to meet the needs of a changing world, hence their support of this initiative.
“Relationships between nations are rooted in the relationships between their people. And here, we are counting on the American and Chinese people to contribute to the enduring nature of this consequential relationship,” Clinton said. “I believe that the more Chinese and American people learn about each other — as students and scholars, as innovators and entrepreneurs, as artists and athletes, as members of two great, rich, and distinct cultures — the more resilient our relationship can be.”
Building AU’S China Relations
While China is the world’s most populous nation and its second largest economy, Americans have much to learn about it. An estimated twelve times more Chinese students study in the U.S. than Americans study in China, according to the foundation. The number of Chinese who study English is 600 times greater than the number of Americans who study Mandarin. The foundation seeks to help correct the imbalance, said SIS Dean James Goldgeier.
The partnership with SIS is a natural fit. The school was founded on a commitment to wage peace around the world and collaborations like the one with 100,000 Strong Foundation honor that, said Leeanne Dunsmore, associate dean for enrollment management and program development at SIS.
“Through greater appreciation and understanding, we are able to build a more peaceful world,” Dunsmore said. “It’s with that knowledge that we’re involved in these types of public-private partnerships.”
The 100,000 Strong Foundation is one of many international education collaborations at SIS, including the Pakistan Women’s Council, the United States-Indonesia Society, (USINDO) and the Myanmar initiative of the International Academic Partnership Program. In addition, Fanta Aw, assistant vice president of Campus Life and director of the International Student and Scholar Services, was recently named president of NAFSA: Association of International Educators.
Cultivating Greater Understanding
This relationship with the 100,000 Strong Foundation will help expand AU’s visibility in China, Goldgeier said.
“We’re trying to establish our own connections with China and the ability to partner with an entity that promotes the U.S.-China relationship is a great opportunity for us,” he said.
One vital connection between AU and China has already been made. Recently, SIS inked an agreement with Peking University that will allow graduate students to enroll directly in the Chinese institution’s School of International Studies.
Both Goldgeier and Dunsmore have leadership roles within the 100,000 Strong Foundation. Goldgeier sits on the foundation’s advisory council and Dunsmore is a member of its board.
AU ranked fifth by institutional type for percent of undergrads who studied abroad, according to a recent Open Doors study. As a leader in these programs, AU has been sending students to China for years — the Beijing Program through AU Abroad has been operating since the late 1990s.
China is consistently one of the most popular destinations for AU students studying abroad, said Ethan Merritt, senior study abroad advisor in the AU Abroad Office.
Currently, AU offers over 10 programs of study in China, including opportunities for language immersion and field work. This past academic year, five SIS graduate students traveled to the country. Also last semester, 25 AU undergraduate students studied in China through AU Abroad.
Studying in China
When SIS junior Julian Downey was considering where to study abroad, he knew he wanted to go to a country that was a major player on the world stage. So last summer he packed his bags and headed off to China.
The semester-long experience was enlightening. He became fluent in Mandarin and met many Chinese friends who schooled him on what real China was like. After his time studying abroad in Beijing, Downey resolved to pursue a career that would make use of his language skills and knowledge of the growing superpower.
AU also boasts a robust Chinese language program in Washington, D.C. Before he went to China, Downey’s Mandarin wasn’t great, he says. After a semester in Beijing, he’s comfortable with the language and has continued his studies back at AU. He’s now taking a course called Newspaper Chinese taught by Xiaoquan Zhang, assistant professor of World Languages and Cultures, where students study Chinese print media to absorb the language while also learning about the culture and politics of the country.
The 100,000 Strong Foundation wants to help cultivate students like Downey who have an appreciation and understanding of China, said Carola McGiffert, president of the non-profit.
“Studying abroad in China is life-changing,” she said. “It opens eyes and doors to the future. American youth return from China with new friendships and the cultural and professional skills to succeed in the global economy.”