Michelle Obama recently traveled to China to promote educational exchanges.
On Weibo, the most popular Chinese social media platform, Obama’s outfits, places she visited, interaction that she had with China’s first lady Peng Liyuan, were the most talked-about topics. Had I not been studying abroad in the U.S., I would have been more interested in those lighthearted topics.
This time, I rather paid more attention to the real purpose of the trip. Obama called on U.S. students to study abroad in China, learn Chinese, connect to people there and understand more about Chinese culture. The message behind her calling must have a broader meaning — China is on the rise, and it’s important for the U.S. to learn about the country, its people and culture.
However, from a Chinese student’ point of view, it will be helpful for a better campus climate for international students at U.S. universities. More American students going to China means more cross-cultural understanding. After they return to the U.S., they are going to be more globally-minded and have a better sense of cultural awareness, which will improve future interaction between U.S. and international students.
1,351 University of Iowa students study abroad during academic year 2011/12, according to the UI Study Abroad Statistics. Italy and Spain were the most popular destinations among undergrads. Only 3 percent studied abroad in China. With a large number of international students from China, while few U.S. students going to China, the educational exchange here is unbalanced.
There are of course some Chinese students who come to the U.S. just for a degree, not trying to learn about American culture. But most are trying hard to succeed academically and culturally. They come to this country half-way across the globe, at least stepped out with some degree of curiosity to explore.
It would be great if more U.S. students study in China in the future, so that when they come back, they would at least know that Sweet and Sour Chicken isn’t Chinese food.