Thursday, January 20, 2011

On The Importance Of Educational Exchange

Thanks to an invitation from the Fulbright Program, I had the opportunity to be there yesterday morning when First Lady Michelle Obama, as part of Chinese President Hu Jintao's state visit, spoke on the importance of expanding educational exchanges between China and the United States.

As someone who has now been to China a number of times, there was not much at the event that I considered to be news. I am, after all, already convinced of the value of educational exchange, and hopefully in our own small way the four of us have succeeded in bridging just a little bit of the gap between our two countries.

That said, it doesn't take long for me to conjure up the memory of that day in 2003 when I, almost by mistake, agreed to go to China for the first time. It seemed like such a faraway, incomprehensible place to us back then. And so I can understand the need for public officials to exhort young people, especially those who (like Desi and me) are the first in their families to attend and graduate from university. On that score, the First Lady did a fine job.

The real headliners, though, were the students who were on stage during the event, as well as the students I had the chance to have lunch with afterward. The fluency of these young Mandarin speakers just blows me away. I especially enjoyed one student's story of how he ended up in the back of a restaurant with a young Chinese worker singing the song "California Dreamin" as it played on a laptop. As anyone who has been reading our posts for the past several years may have come to appreciate, it is those little moments in educational exchange that oftentimes become the lasting memories.



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