In 2011 President Barack Obama started the 100,000 Strong Foundation — an initiative to get 100,000 students from the United States to study abroad in China — and this year the movement came to Binghamton University’s campus.
Annie Newberry, a senior double-majoring in environmental studies and Asian and Asian American studies, brought the program to BU as a part of Project Pengyou, which aims to increase interactions between Chinese and American students and build bridges between the United States and China.
Pengyou means “friend” in Chinese, and the organization consists of 40 chapters at different universities and high schools nationally. Its website, projectpengyou.org, provides a platform through which people can sign up for the program, network, find resources for jobs and share stories about studying abroad in China or the United States.
Because the club started at BU in October, it was too late to receive Student Association chartering, something the club hopes to achieve early next semester. This hindered its ability to be advertised on campus through B-Line and tabling, but club members have spread the word through social media.
Justin Mei, the club vice president and a senior majoring in integrative neuroscience, said he joined because when he entered college he learned how important foreign cultures are for those living in the United States.
“Having an understanding of how other peoples’ lives are different is not only crucial for learning empathy, but a basic knowledge is important for almost any career, especially when it involves U.S.-China relations,” Mei said.
Chopstick races, temporary Chinese tattoos, photo booths and the giving out of Chinese names were among some activities featured during an event the club hosted in celebration of National Pengyou Day, held on Nov. 17 in the Old University Union. These events are to encourage students to study abroad in China, but more so to become acquainted with Chinese culture and meet students from China.
Newberry said that since China is the world’s second largest economy, there’s potential for a conflict to arise with the United States so being aware of the existing relations is important.
Mark Reisinger, the chair of the China International Education Advisory Council, and associate professor and undergraduate director of geography, said China will probably surpass the United States as the world’s leading economy soon, so students should want to have a better knowledge of Chinese culture and the way China views the world.
“It’s a really fascinating place with a long history, down to the language and food,” Reisinger said. “We have so many students from China coming here to go to school, so hopefully more American students will become exposed to Chinese culture and people will want to explore China.”
The club currently has 11 members made up of Caucasian, Asian and international students, and anyone is welcome to join. According to Newberry, they are striving for inclusivity and diversity and are looking to recruit younger members. She said the club is looking to focus on programs that Asian organizations don’t already offer, such as career-building panels with alumni and collaborations with the Office of International Programs.
“A lot of the time there’s a huge divide between international students and American students,” Newberry said. “We just want to celebrate Chinese culture and that doesn’t have to be exclusive to people of Asian or Chinese heritage.”
According to Kerry Stamp, associate director for study abroad at the Office of International Education and Global Initiatives, China is the University’s fifth most popular study abroad destination. In the 2014-15 academic year, 4 percent of BU students who studied abroad participated in a program in China.
Hanyang Zang, a junior majoring in accounting, said he joined Project Pengyou to help international students build friendships with native speakers.
“I think this program will be a huge movement because the population of Chinese exchange students in BU is increasing, which will prompt diversity and also build closer relationships between the two countries,” Zang said.