First Lady Michelle Obama encouraged college students to take advantage of opportunities to study abroad in China during a speech in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday.
The speech, delivered in front of more than 1,000 students, was in support of the president’s “100,000 Strong” Initiative, a plan Obama announced during his 2009 China visit that is a national effort to greatly increase the number and diversity of Americans who are able to study in China through the promotion of programs and scholarships.
In her speech, the First Lady emphasized the importance of pursuing study opportunities in China by citing the key role young adults can play in shaping United States-China relations and expanding collaboration between the two nations on both regional and global issues.
“Studying in countries like China isn’t only about your prospects in the global marketplace,” she said. “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.”
Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics, said sending American students abroad has tremendous national and global benefits, particularly with regard to the nation’s ties to China.
“The first lady is absolutely right,” he said. “The more American college students that spend time studying abroad, the more equipped our society is going to be to work in a global community in the years ahead. The good news around here is that USC is already one of the nation’s leaders in encouraging these types of efforts, and it would be nice to have some company.”
USC boasts an international office in Nanjing, China, two abroad programs run by the Office of Overseas Studies and 19 Chinese-related language programs offered by the USC U.S.-China Institute.
Clayton Dube, associate director of the U.S.-China Institute, said the university’s presence in China is particularly strong and has grown in recent years.
“We had 11 summer programs last year, and that doesn’t even include the ones that the U.S.-China Institute ran for teachers and students who served as ambassadors at the World Expo,” Dube said.
USC’s U.S.-China Institute organized more than 160 participants to serve at the World Expo in Shanghai last year, Dube said.
Nationally, the number of Americans who study in China has steadily increased in recent years, as well. Ten years ago, roughly 3,000 Americans studied in China, compared to about 14,000 who went in 2008 and roughly 20,000 in 2009, according to a paper Dube published last August.
In addition, the U.S. State Department sends more Americans to China for study abroad than to any other country, according to Ann Stock, assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs.
Schnur said USC students stand to benefit even further if students from across the country are able to take part in similar ventures.
“[Former] President [Steven B.] Sample and [President] C. L. Max Nikias have both made the strengthening of these ties an absolute priority for the university,” he said. “It can only be a good thing for USC students to take advantage of this experience if other students from other schools have similar opportunities as well.”
Alex Silkin, a sophomore majoring in computer science, who went on USC’s Beijing summer program last year, said his experience abroad helped him place his academics in a global context.
“I could see with my own eyes how Beijing … will shape the future of human civilization [but] my experiences in Asia also highlighted the problems of modern society,” he said. “[Studying in China] is not only an excellent way to learn a language and submerge oneself within a culture, but also broaden one’s knowledge about the state of the world.”