Last year the number of Chinese studying abroad in the U.S. rose 23 percent, to surpass 200,000. Far fewer American students study in China, which is something the U.S. State Department is trying to change.
Christie Civetta is one of thousands of American students abroad in Beijing this year through the "100,000 Strong Initiative," a program that aims to increase the number of Americans studying in China. She said, “I think it opens your eyes to what actually is here, to truly what is going on in China, what truly is happening. I think that’s incredibly important to know if you want to be educated to chat about it at all.”
Civetta is taking Mandarin classes through the Alliance for Global Education
, a U.S. non-profit, at Beijing’s Language and Culture University. Announced by the State Department in 2010, the 100,000 Strong Initiative aims to increase the number of American students in China to 100,000 by next year.
The foundation also supports organizations like Project Pengyou, run by Holly Chang. Project Pengyou, which is based in Beijing, connects students who have lived or studied in China. Chang said personal ties forged during study abroad can have an impact on national relations between the U.S. and China.
“We live in this bipolar world where there is increasingly, there’s power struggle, but there’s still a huge level of misunderstanding I think on a cultural level, and it’s not until you actually create those people-to-people relations and strengthen personal bonds between people that they actually strengthen their capacity to work together,” said Chang.
Support for study abroad programs has also gotten a recent boost from Beijing officials. Chang said, “And the Chinese government came out and said we’ll fund 20,000 scholarships, which was unexpected and also a signal that yeah, they’re into it [support it].”
As part of her study abroad program, Civetta is taking cooking classes at Black Sesame, a Beijing restaurant hidden in one of the city’s historic courtyards. There she learns how to make traditional Chinese dishes and practices her Chinese language skills with the staff. She said, "Even though it may not be the final direction I go for in my career if you will, I am very excited to get that alternative perspective on the whole world of culinary arts through a Chinese lens.”
Twelve times more Chinese study in the U.S. than Americans study in China. The 100,000 Strong Foundation is working to shift that balance so more students like Civetta come to Beijing.