First Lady Michelle Obama Urges American Youth to Strengthen U.S. – China Ties, Announces Major Commitments Helping Students Study in China

First Lady Michelle Obama Urges American Youth to Strengthen U.S. – China Ties, Announces Major Commitments Helping Students Study in China

President Obama’s “100,000 Strong Initiative” will increase the number and diversity of American student studying in China.


Washington, DC – Citing the need to prepare young people to succeed in the modern global economy, First Lady Michelle Obama encouraged students to study in China, work together and make America and the world stronger. In support of the President’s “100,000 Strong Initiative, Mrs. Obama spoke to more than a thousand young people from Washington, DC, area public, private and parochial schools, colleges and universities about the importance of building relationships with their peers in China and creating a mutual understanding around the world. The First Lady has made youth engagement her international focus by both reaching out to young people around the world on behalf of the U.S. and also encouraging American youth to become more involved in world affairs, as she highlighted in her 2010 George Washington University commencement speech.


Mrs. Obama was joined by Madame Chen Naiqing, the wife of China’s ambassador to the U.S., Zhang Yesui, and Mary Kaye Huntsman, wife of U.S. ambassador to China Jon Huntsman.


President Obama and the First Lady began the day by hosting Chinese President Hu Jintao, President of the People’s Republic of China, at the White House for a State Visit. President Hu’s visit highlights the importance of expanding cooperation between the United States and China on bilateral, regional, and global issues, as well as the friendship between the peoples of our two countries.  The President and Mrs. Obama will conclude the evening by hosting President Hu for a State Dinner.


“Studying in countries like China isn’t only about your prospects in the global marketplace.  It’s not just about whether you can compete with your peers in other countries to make America stronger.  It’s also about whether you can come together, and work together with them to make our world stronger.  It’s about the friendships you make, the bonds of trust you establish, and the image of America that you project to the rest of the world,” said First Lady Michelle Obama. That’s why it is so important for more of our young people to live and study in each other’s countries – because that’s how you develop that habit of cooperation.  By immersing yourself in someone else’s culture, by sharing your stories and letting them share theirs, by taking the time to get past the stereotypes and misperceptions that too often divide us.”


“The State Department sends more Americans to study abroad in China than to any other country, “said Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs Ann Stock, “Students who study abroad learn firsthand how critical international exchange programs are to developing the next generation of global citizens.”


President Obama unveiled the “100,000 Strong Initiative” during his 2009 visit to China. Today the First Lady announced more than $2.25 million in private sector pledges in support of the initiative’s goal of dramatically increasing the number and diversity of American students studying in China. In particular, the $1 million pledges by both Caterpillar Inc. and Citigroup, the $100,000 pledges by Motorola Solutions Foundation and the U.S.-China Education Trust (USCET) are the first major financial commitments made in support of the Initiative. They will advance the goal of increasing the number of American students who study in China by 2014, particularly among under-represented groups such as minority and community college students.


Building off Mrs. Obama’s remarks, a panel of students who studied in China gave their insights. Critical Language Scholarship alumna Nicole Baden of Howard University, Lyric Carter from Phelps Architecture, Construction and Engineering High School in Washington, D.C., Gilman alumna Valery Lavigne from the College of New Jersey, and Gilman alumnus David Marzban from Pepperdine University shared their life-transforming experiences studying in China with moderator Ann Stock, Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs.


In addition to announcing major funding pledges, the U.S. Mission in China recently relaunched its “EducationUSA” program to ensure that Chinese students and their parents receive trustworthy information about studying in the United States.  EducationUSA also features online and mobile services to make this information available throughout China.


The First Lady also highlighted several new efforts launched under the 100,000 Strong Initiative, including:


  • The D.C. Center for Global Education and Leadership (CGEL) will create up to 1,000 study abroad opportunities over the next four years in support of the President’s Initiative for students, teachers, and education policymakers from Washington, D.C. public and public charter schools, an underserved community.
  • Although community colleges enroll more than half of the undergraduates in the United State, community college students represent only three percent of those who study abroad.  To address this discrepancy, the Center for Global Advancement for Community Colleges (CGACC) is establishing an inter-semester China program in collaboration with the West Los Angeles Community College. The program would offer month-long, study-abroad opportunities tailored to community college students. Students from West Los Angeles College, Northern Virginia Community Colleges, Community College of Spokane, Richland Community College, Miami Dade College, and Bronx Community College will be invited to participate in the pilot project, which will later be expanded nationwide.
  • In support of the Initiative, last week Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton sent a letter to leading educational umbrella groups encouraging their member organizations to increase the number of their students who study abroad in China. To date, 324 institutions have answered in support of her invitation and have pledged to double their numbers over the next four years. Included in these supporters are the 47 public Historically Black College and University members of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund; the 39 private HBCU members of the United Negro College Fund; and the 199 U.S.-based Hispanic-serving members of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities. This commitment will help address the significant underrepresentation of minority students in study abroad overall and in China in particular.
  • A Federal Advisory Committee composed of celebrated China experts and private-sector leaders is being created to provide guidance and support to the Initiative.


Other new efforts include:

  • Zinch, a private U.S. information management company with operations in China, will create a free online database for American students to find study abroad opportunities in China.
  • The Ford Foundation, a U.S. non-profit with a long-history in China, is providing seed money to the non-profit organization Golden Bridges for the creation of a robust alumni network to bring together students who have traveled to China as part of the 100,000 Strong cohort and previously.
  • GreenPoint Group and the Friends of Charitable Education Trust have offered scholarships to students from rural Kansas to participate in the Experiment in International Living’s China program.
  • Van Eyck Global has contributed $100,000 in support of the Initiative to the U.S.-China Education Trust.  USCET has distributed this money among four forward-looking colleges to provide travel grants for their students to go to China: University of Arkansas, Boston University, North Alabama University, and San Francisco State University.
  • The Chinese government has offered 10,000 scholarships for Americans studying in China.  These “bridge” scholarships will cover all in-country costs and target high school and college students and teachers.
  • In addition, the State Department is working with a large number of schools and study abroad programs to help them identify new sources of funding so that they can scale up their excellent China study programs.


About the 100,000 Strong Initiative

The 100,000 Strong Initiative aims to increase significantly the number of Americans who have the opportunity to study in China.  Citing the strategic importance of the U.S.-China relationship, President Obama announced the Initiative in Shanghai in November 2009, and Secretary Clinton officially launched the effort in May 2010.  The Initiative is designed to help educational institutions establish or expand China study programs. It also seeks to reach communities that are traditionally underrepresented in study abroad, including minority, community college, and high school students, as well as students in the science and technology field and those pursuing advanced degrees in China studies. The Initiative relies exclusively on private-sector funds. More information about the Initiative can be found at:
About the Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs

The Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) promotes international mutual understanding through a wide range of academic, cultural, private-sector, professional, and sports exchange programs. ECA exchanges engage youth, students, educators, artists, athletes, and emerging leaders in many fields in the United States and in more than 160 countries. Alumni of ECA exchanges comprise over one million people around the world, including more than 50 Nobel Laureates and more than 300 current or former heads of state and government.


ECA’s programs for study abroad for Americans include the Fulbright Program, providing opportunities for students and scholars from the United States and countries around the world to study, teach, and conduct research in each other’s country,  the Gilman Program, providing scholarships to American undergraduates with financial need for study abroad; the Critical Language Scholarship Program, supporting study for American undergraduate and graduate students in intensive summer language institutes overseas; and the National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y) Program, sending American high school students overseas for intensive language study for summer, semester and academic year programs.







Office of the First Lady


For Immediate Release                   December 19, 2010





Howard University

Washington, D.C.


10:51 A.M. EST


MRS. OBAMA:  Well, it is wonderful to be here.  Thank you.  Thank you so much.  I am very excited.


I want to start by thanking President Ribeau for that very kind introduction but more importantly for his leadership here at one of my favorite universities.  (Applause.)


And I also want to acknowledge my counterpart here at Howard, your First Lady — (applause) — Dr. Paula Whetsel-Ribeau.  It is always nice to see her.  And she’s looking pretty good today, too, I might add.  (Laughter and applause.)


I also want to recognize Ambassador Chen and thank her for those wonderful remarks, the history of educational exchange between our countries.  It’s important to know.


And I’d also like to acknowledge Mary Kaye Huntsman, the wife of our Ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman, for taking the time to join us here today.  Let’s give them both a wonderful round of applause.  (Applause.)


And finally, I want to thank all the folks here from the Ralph J. Bunche International Affairs Center — (applause) — for all their work to promote international study and exchange here at Howard.  So thank you all for the work you’re doing.  You’re setting a tremendous example.


So we’ve had a pretty busy morning at the White House.  As you know, we welcomed President Hu, the President of China, for an official state visit.  We are so very pleased to have this chance to return the hospitality that President Hu showed my husband during his trip to China a little over a year ago.


Visits like these provide an important opportunity to strengthen ties, and to deepen bonds of understanding between our countries and our leaders.  But as you all know, that work doesn’t just happen at the White House or within the walls of the U.N.  It isn’t just about relationships between our governments and our presidents.  It’s also about relationships between our people –- between our business leaders, and our scientists, our educators, and particularly between our young people.


That’s why, when we travel abroad, my husband and I just don’t visit palaces and parliaments.  We always visit schools and universities and we meet with students just like all of you — (applause) — because we believe strongly that young people like you can play a vital role in strengthening ties between people and nations all around the world.


So the topic of today’s panel –- which is the importance of studying abroad, particularly in China –- you have to understand is a key component of this administration’s foreign policy agenda.


Through the wonders of modern technology, our world has grown increasingly interconnected.  Ideas can cross oceans with the click of a button.  We can speak, and text, and email, and Skype, and all that other stuff you guys do with people in every corner of the globe.  Companies here in America can do business –- and compete with –- companies all over the world.


And as a consequence, studying abroad isn’t just an important part of a well-rounded educational experience.  It’s also becoming increasingly important for success in the modern global economy.  Getting ahead in today’s workplaces isn’t just about the skills you bring from the classroom.  It’s also about the experience you have with the world beyond our borders — with people, and languages, and cultures that are very different from our own.


But let’s be clear: studying in countries like China is about so much more than just improving your own prospects in the global market.


The fact is, with every friendship you make, and every bond of trust you establish, you are shaping the image of America projected to the rest of the world.  That is so important.  So when you study abroad, you’re actually helping to make America stronger.


And these experiences also set the stage for young people all over the world to come together and work together to make our world stronger, because make no mistake about it, whether it’s climate change or terrorism, economic recovery or the spread of nuclear weapons, for the U.S. and China, the defining challenges of our time are shared challenges.  Neither of our countries can confront these alone.  The only way forward, the only way to solve these problems, is by working together.


That’s why it is so important for more of our young people to live and study in each other’s countries.  That’s how, student by student, we develop that habit of cooperation, by immersing yourself in someone else’s culture, by sharing your stories and letting them share theirs, by taking the time to get past the stereotypes and misperceptions that too often divide us.


That’s how you build that familiarity that melts away mistrust.  That’s how you begin to see yourselves in one another and realize how much we all share, no matter where we live.


So the question today is, how do we provide that opportunity for more of our young people?


Now, the good news is that we are headed in the right direction.  In recent years, we’ve seen a 50 percent increase in students studying in China.  And today, the highest number of exchange students in the U.S. are in China — are from China.


But still, there are too many students here in the United States who don’t have that chance.  And some that do are reluctant to seize it.  Maybe they may feel like study abroad is something that only rich kids do, or maybe kids who go to certain colleges; they’re the only ones who do that.  They may hear those voices of doubt in their heads — you know, the ones that say that, “Kids like me don’t do things like that,” or “How will this really be relevant in my life?”


Now, I say this because I understand these feelings.  I felt that same way back when I was in college.  I grew up in a blue-collar neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago, and the idea of spending time abroad just never registered with me.  My brother and I were among the first in our families to go to college.  So, trust me, we were way more focused on getting in, getting through, and getting out — (laughter and applause) — than we were with finding opportunities that would broaden our horizons.


And the truth is, with the high cost of college these days, many young people are struggling just to afford a regular semester of school — (applause) — let alone pay for the airline tickets and the living expenses to go halfway around the world.


So we know that it’s not enough for us to simply encourage more people to study abroad.  We also need to make sure that they can actually afford it.


And that’s why, during this visit — his visit to China, my husband announced the 100,000 Strong Initiative.  This is a new initiative to increase both the number — and the diversity — of young people from the U.S. studying in China.  And, today, we’re pleased to announce a series of new efforts that will bring us even closer to that goal.


To start, Secretary Clinton, who’s been a tireless champion for this program, has just launched a “Double the Numbers Challenge.”  She’s asking college and university presidents to double the number of students who study in China.  And we’re placing a special emphasis on reaching Hispanic Serving Institutions and Historically Black Colleges and Universities like Howard.  (Applause.)


To make it easier for students to meet this challenge, we’re launching a new Community College Mini-mester program, providing shorter-term, more affordable study abroad opportunities.  And the Chinese government is offering — listen to this — 10,000 scholarships to cover all in-country costs for American students and teachers who study in China.  (Applause.)


To give more high school students the opportunity, right here the DC Center of Global Education and Leadership is creating weekend and after-school Mandarin classes for DC public school students, and they’ll be offering new opportunities for these same students to study in China during the summer.  That’s wonderful.  (Applause.)


And, finally, to help oversee all these new programs and all these wonderful outreach efforts, the State Department has created a high-level federal advisory committee composed of prominent China experts and leaders in business, academic, and the non-profit worlds.


So, we’re making some very good progress.  And I am proud of what we’re doing here because I know, I know, because of what I missed, the impact an opportunity like this can have on a young person’s life.  I know the growth it can spur, the passion it can spark, the sense of direction and purpose it can provide.


When reflecting on his time in China, Jason Williams, a graduate of Seattle Pacific University, said — and this is a quote — “I’ve come to understand the world as more complex, more interconnected, and more beautiful than I ever could have imagined.”


Nina Robinson, who attended School without Walls right here in D.C., described the sense of independence she gained from learning a new language and navigating a new city all on her own.  As she concluded simply — and this is her quote — “Not only was this trip an educational experience, but it was [a] life experience.”


And I can guarantee all of you that when you study abroad, you won’t just change your own life.  You’ll change the lives of every single person you come in contact with.


President Kennedy once said about young people who come to study in the U.S. — he said, “I think they teach more than they learn.”  And I think that’s true as well for young Americans who study abroad.


As my husband once put it, “America has no better ambassadors to offer than our young people.”  You all are America’s true face to the world.  You show the world our energy and our optimism.  You show the world our decency and our openness and our compassion.


So, we need you.  We need you out there taking some risks and doing some really hard things.  And that’s certainly true for the four ambassadors that we have on today’s panel.  These impressive young people have each spent time studying in China, and they have generously agreed to share their experiences with us today.


So, with that, I will happily turn things over to Ann Stock, our Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs, who will be leading our discussion.


So I want to thank you all, as always.  I love coming to Howard.  (Applause.)  I love seeing you all.  (Applause.)  I am proud of every single one of you who have stepped outside of this comfort zone into another country.  Keep it up.


I want to thank our panelists for joining us.  And I look forward to seeing many of you follow in their footsteps in the years ahead.  So, keep working hard.  Thank you all so much.  (Applause.)




Lover, Fighter, Friend, Journalist, and Activist.

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2 comments on “First Lady Michelle Obama Urges American Youth to Strengthen U.S. – China Ties, Announces Major Commitments Helping Students Study in China
  1. Rich Gerdes and C.C. Tien says:

    this is a great post you’ve written for the 100K initiative. I’m working on a non-profit journal (Chinese American Forum) and would really like to use your article as it is more up to date. if possible please let us know.

    Rich Gerdes, Associate Editor
    C.C. Tien, Editor

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