U.S. students hope to open minds back home to real China

2024-06-28 07:49:04China Daily Editor : Li Yan ECNS App Download

Students from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, the United States, learn about the interior structure of the Xiaomi SU7 electric vehicle at the company's industrial park in Beijing on May 17. (ZOU HONG/CHINA DAILY)

China's initiative to invite 50,000 young people from the United States to visit the country over the next five years is a smart move and will improve China-U.S. relations, according to one of the first groups of U.S. students to participate in the program.

President Xi Jinping proposed the initiative to invite U.S. youths to experience exchanges and study programs during his visit to San Francisco, California, in November.

Fourteen students and a teacher from Indiana University of Pennsylvania were among the first to take part in the program, visiting China from mid-May to late May.

Organized by the Beijing Foreign Studies University, the group visited technology companies such as Xiaomi, experienced Chinese culture in Beijing and Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, and played sports with their Chinese counterparts.

After the trip's closing ceremony on May 26, Caroline Bianco said she was grateful to be a part of the 2024 BFSU Discover China Program.

"I think the initiative is really smart," she said. "Even if our two governments have different positions on core issues, like how they should run their countries or how they govern their people, youth can be the bridge."

Before arriving, Bianco's perception of China was simply of a country with a large population, crowded and busy places, and terrible pollution.

However, the visit changed her mind, and she has saved images of what she saw and experienced on her smartphone. She said she will go back home and tell everyone how her experiences differed from her expectations.

"If I show people photos about how these cities are greener than ours, explain about how they cared about the environment or (people's) health, I think some people may understand what I experienced and change their minds," Bianco said.

She was impressed by the hospitality of Chinese people and recalled an experience in a rural area of Hangzhou, where villagers at a tea garden they randomly stopped at served them tea and allowed them to use the toilet in their house.

"It was something we have never experienced in the U.S. We wouldn't think about inviting strangers into our houses. It seems like they are really trusting and treat guests with hospitality," she said.

Most of the students had never been to an Asian country before, and they witnessed different aspects of life and culture in China. The eye-openers included the ancient architecture of the Forbidden City, the natural beauty of West Lake as well as modern advances such as the widespread use of mobile-phone payments and the country's high-speed railway network.

Despite the differences, the U.S. students said what are truly important are the similarities both people shared.

"We learned by coming here that people are very similar, even though our cultures are very different. You find you have more in common with someone from a different country like China," Bianco said.

Emma Monday said the initiative is about making a difference in relations between two countries that currently have political tensions. "I think the fact that China is stepping up to take this initiative really shows their efforts to try to repair the relationship," Monday said, adding it is a positive move.

"We are going in the right direction. I implore U.S. citizens to open their eyes, welcome this initiative, and meet China halfway," she said.

Kamir Walton said he was a little nervous about coming to China, and was worried that he would get in trouble if he said anything considered improper. "But being here, the first day I knew I had it wrong, or Americans had it wrong," Walton said.

His China experience had made him believe that people-to-people exchanges are what the two countries need and he would like to be part of that bridge, he said.

"This is the first step, and 50,000 young people saying how China is may be enough for a small movement in China-U.S. relations," Walton said.


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