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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

"100,000 Strong Initiative" to Send American Students to Study in China

Carola McGiffert, Senior Advisor to the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asiana nd Pacific Affairs and Director of the 100,000 Strong Initiative
Washington, DC
December 8, 2011

2:00 P.M., EST


MS. MCGIFFERT: Thank you very much, Andrea, and thank you, everyone, for coming today. My name is Carola McGiffert. I’m a senior advisor to the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell, and also director of the 100,000 Strong Initiative, which is why I’m here today.

Both President Obama and Secretary Clinton have stated that there is perhaps no more consequential relationship than that between the United States and China. Virtually every global challenge will require the United States and China to sit down across the table and resolve it together. And therefore, we both need to ensure that the next generation of our leaders are well versed in each other’s culture, language, history– and have a deep understanding of the other side. And that is why, in November 2009, when he was visiting Shanghai, President Obama announced his goal of seeing 100,000 Americans study in China over the following four years.

The 100,000 Strong Initiative was formally launched by Secretary Clinton in May 2010 on the margins of the Strategic and Economic Dialogue and as part of the U.S.-China Consultation on People-to-People Exchange. The goal of the initiative is twofold. One is to see a significant increase in the number of Americans who study in China and study Mandarin to 100,000. Last month, the Institute of International Education released its Open Doors report, which is supported by the State Department. That showed that slightly less than 14,000 Americans were studying in China at the undergraduate level between the year – in the academic year 2009-2010. And so those numbers really present to us the baseline, so we’re trying to get from essentially 14,000 a year to a cumulative number of 100,000. It’s an ambitious but a critical goal.

The second piece of the initiative is to diversify the types of students who have access to these programs. The typical American study abroad student is female, Caucasian, from the middle and upper socioeconomic classes, and enrolled in a four-year college or university. And while we encourage more of these students to go to China to study, we also need to make sure that we’re creating opportunities for lower-income students, students from two-year colleges, community colleges, minority students, as well as younger students. We are particularly focused on trying to get more middle and high school students from underserved communities to have the opportunity to study in China, because we believe that the younger – the earlier you can expose Americans to Chinese language and culture, the more that they will be prepared to interact with Chinese peers.

And I think you may know that next week, we are supporting a major cultural festival and concert in Beijing called Booey Lehoo. It is drawn – sorry, my accent’s bad – but it’s an excerpt from a Confucius saying that essentially means we’re very happy when friends come from afar. And really, it’s a celebration of U.S.-China people-to-people ties and the 100,000 Strong Initiative. It will culminate in a concert on December 17th in Beijing featuring U.S. and Chinese pop stars, including and of the Black Eyed Peas, John Legend, Shunza, Coco Lee, and others. And we hope your friends in Beijing will all attend. But it’s really a way to celebrate that our people are getting to know each other better and will continue to do so in the future. Both Madam Liu Yandong and Secretary Clinton have endorsed the event, and we’re very excited about it.

I should also say that we are trying to do what I think Chinese have been doing for a long time, which is really understanding the other side. Chinese come to the United States in large numbers to study. The recent Open Doors report showed that 158,000 Chinese were studying in the United States last year. We welcome this. We want more of your students to come to the United States. Your presence at – on our campus create the friendships and ties that we’re trying to build. We just want to do more of it in terms of Americans coming to China.

President Obama and Secretary Clinton view this initiative as a major investment in three key areas. It’s an investment in U.S.-China relations, and our Chinese friends and counterparts agree. The Chinese Government has very generously offered 20,000 scholarships for Americans to study in China over this four-year period, anywhere from high school students coming for bridge camps to undergraduate, graduate, and post-graduate students, as well as teachers and school administrators. And we’re very grateful for the support.

It’s also an investment in the U.S. and global economies. Our young people must have the cultural skills, the knowledge, to engage with Chinese peers to ensure economic growth here at home and around the world. And in addition, it’s an investment in our young people so that they do have these skills to compete and succeed in their professional lives, whether they go into a China-specific field or not.

The initiative is being implemented as a public-private partnership. To date, we have pledges of over $11 million from U.S. and other private entities to support the initiative. The money goes directly from the donors to the schools and study abroad programs of their choice. And we’re very grateful to companies like Coca-Cola, Citigroup, Caterpillar, Motorola, Laureate, and others who have pledged to support to help realize President Obama’s goal. We have a long way to go, but with the support of the U.S. and Chinese governments and our private sectors, we are confident that we can achieve this goal.

So I will leave it there and open it up to questions.

MODERATOR: Okay. Let’s start here.

QUESTION: Hi, hello. Thanks for being here. I’m a reporter of China’s Xinhua News Agency. My name is Jing Du. And my question is about December’s concert. And when – it’s a sort of benefit concert, and the prop is – and the proceeds is – will be used to encourage educational exchanges between the two countries. And my question is: How much money are you expecting to raise at this concert, and where will the proceeds go? It goes to students in China, or to students in the United States, or both? Thanks.

MS. MCGIFFERT: Sure. The concert itself and the week of festivities, including intellectual discussions, art shows, a basketball tournament between American and Chinese high school students – they’re all being organized by a group called Americans Promoting Study Abroad, APSA. And the State Department is supporting their efforts. They have a number of partners on the ground in China and a number of corporate donors, and so they are the ones who are bringing in the money. We have also partnered with three U.S. cities – excuse me – Seattle, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C. We hope to bring on a couple of more in the weeks ahead, even after the concert.

The money will go to organizations – Americans Promoting Study Abroad, as well as nonprofit organizations in those three cities to help Americans from public high schools in underserved communities in those cities to have the opportunity to do summer programs in China. Some of the money will go to nonprofits in China as well. We’ve partnered with the Jackie Chan Foundation and the good work that they do to promote education for underserved Chinese students as well.

QUESTION: One hundred percent of the --

MODERATOR: State your name and news organization.

QUESTION: Kang from CCTV, and also the question about the concert. So that – you mean 100 percent of the proceeds will be donated to the student exchange program?


MODERATOR: Okay. Other questions?

QUESTION: Thank you very much. This is Ju Hui with China Youth Daily. I have one – two questions. One is the – technically, how to – how, for the United students, to apply for this program, especially for the low-income students, and also for – you had mentioned about the middle school students. Second one you mentioned that the Chinese Government will offer scholarships for the students coming from the United States. Are there any – or are there any scholarship will be offered from the United States Government or any companies? How are things going there? Thank you very much.

MS. MCGIFFERT: Sure. On the first question, the U.S. Government – actually, they’re tied together, so I’ll address both at the same time. The U.S. Government, through our Educational and Cultural Affairs Bureau at the State Department, as well as programs run by other departments in the government, offer a wide range of study abroad opportunities and scholarships. You’ve heard of the Fulbright scholarship. There’s also Gilman, which targets underrepresented communities, the NSLI-Y, the National Security Language Initiative for Youth, which enables high school students to study abroad. There are a number of other government-funded scholarship programs to send Americans abroad, including to China.

This initiative is different in that it’s not going to be a government-run program. It will be implemented by the private sector. And I’ll give you an example, just to – the most straightforward way of describing this. Coca-Cola pledged a million dollars to support the initiative. None of the money ever came to the United States Government. The money went directly to – they ran a competitive RFP process through their foundation. They selected six universities to receive part of their grant, and those universities are using that money to increase the number of Americans who study in China, in particular to offer need-based scholarships to lower-income students at their schools.

So these schools already know how to run high-quality study abroad programs to China. What we’re trying to do is help them increase their numbers as well as create new programs – again, not run by the U.S. Government, but run by other organizations – to target underrepresented groups. So that – I think that gets to both questions, which is there’s no one central place to apply for the “100,000 Strong Initiative.” We’re trying to get schools and study abroad programs to be able to increase their numbers.

And it also goes to the second question, which is, yes, the Chinese Government is offering very generous scholarships. I don’t anticipate any new funding at this time from the U.S. Government.

QUESTION: Thank you. I’m Younghae Choi. I’m Washington bureau chief of Dong A Ilbo of South Korea. I would like to know whether the State Department can expand this initiative to other countries. Like China, there are many Korean citizens studying in the United States. And do you have any plan or intention to expand this program to other countries – South Korea or India and the other countries? I would like to know that. And if so, is it necessary for the private company to support this program?

MS. MCGIFFERT: This initiative does focus solely on China. But of course, as the U.S. Government, we encourage study abroad anywhere. We do think we need to specifically increase our numbers to China because of the strategic importance that China plays in a number of different areas, but we do encourage students to take advantage of whatever study abroad opportunity they have. China’s now the fifth most popular destination for Americans. The first four are all in Western Europe. And I actually wish I knew where Korea was on that list, but it’s pretty high up there, I think.

In any case, there are efforts within the State Department to expand study abroad to other countries. Typically, it’s done through our Educational and Cultural Affairs Bureau, which I already mentioned, which does study abroad globally. But individual bureaus, regional bureaus within the State Department, have also started to work on this type of thing. India, for example, the Southeast – the South Asia Bureau has something called Passport to India, where they’re trying to increase the number of Americans who have internship opportunities in India. The Western Hemisphere’s – Hemisphere Bureau was working with the White House. And last March, when President Obama was in Latin America, he announced a similar initiative, also called “100000 Strong” – the criteria is different – for trying to get 100,000 Americans to study in Latin America and a hundred thousand people from Latin America to study in the United States by the year 2020.

So there are a number of initiatives that are being developed on a country or region-specific basis. They’re usually coming out of the regional bureau. Given our budget situation in the United States, I anticipate that we will be doing more and more of these public-private partnerships, which will require funding from the private sector.

QUESTION: How about South Korea?

MS. MCGIFFERT: I don’t know anything specific, but I can find out and get back to you.

QUESTION: Lya Fan from People’s Daily. And despite the rising number of American students studying in China, I wonder if there is any report, assessment report, relating to the result of the initiative. That is, what did American students really learn and the skills or Chinese culture gained from this initiative?

MS. MCGIFFERT: The evidence so far is largely anecdotal, because we have just started the initiative, in reality, just a year and a half ago. And the numbers that show the increase, they lag by a year or two, so we don’t actually know yet how much it has had an impact on the numbers. I expect that the numbers we get next year will show a pretty large increase.

In terms of the experience, you talk to any young American who’s studied in China, they – at the very least, their minds have been opened. They have learned how to navigate a very different culture, learned how to communicate with people who come from a very different background, and really had their eyes opened to the possibilities of very constructive, positive U.S.-China ties going forward, both on a people-to-people basis but also between our governments. So very simply, it’s just a life-transforming experience.

Others really do delve into Mandarin language, business culture, and other things that will have a major impact on their careers. But regardless, we find that – I have actually not met one American student who didn’t love being in China, learn a lot, and want to go back. And I talk to students regularly, so thank you.

MODERATOR: Do we have any other follow-up questions?

New York, go ahead, please.

QUESTION: Yes. This is Qimei from I have a very quick question, just wondering, what’s your trip going to be in China? Like, where – which city are you going to go visit, or do you mind talk about it, and how the media is promoting this specific concert?

MS. MCGIFFERT: Sure. This particular trip, I’ll be going to Guangzhou and to Beijing. I typically go to Beijing on almost every trip, and I’ve been trying to get outside of the east coast a little bit – or Beijing and Shanghai. So I’m adding one or two other cities to each visit. Last time I was in China, in September, I visited Kunming and Chengdu as well. One of the things that we’re very much encouraging American students to do is to venture further west and to other cities beyond Nanchang, Beijing, Shanghai, which have fabulous educational institutions, but there are fabulous educational institutions all across China. And so I am trying to visit some of the places that we are encouraging students to go. So that’s the main – this trip will be Guangzhou and Beijing.

In Guangzhou, we’ll be meeting with university leaders, business leaders, the press, students, and in Beijing we will be doing the same, as well as participating in the Booey Lehoo events.

MODERATOR: Okay. If there – I guess last call for questions.

QUESTION: Hi, I’m Ching-Yi Chang, Phoenix TV. I would like to know whether U.S. Government needs more and more Mandarin-speaking Americans that join the government in the future. Is there kind of trend there?

MS. MCGIFFERT: I don’t have specific numbers, but absolutely. Some of the study abroad programs that are funded by the U.S. Government focus on critical languages and Mandarin is obviously one of them. And so we are actively, as a government, trying to train more Mandarin speakers for our own diplomatic corps, but also for other professions as well. I was told an anecdote recently that at the U.S. Trade Representative’s office a few years ago – not now, a few years ago, in the previous administration – there was only one Mandarin speaker in the general counsel’s office, translating very important trade documents. And this young person was an intern. We need more Mandarin speakers at all levels, in all professions, whether they are in the government or not. But yes, it is a major source – focus of investment for us.

QUESTION: Hi, Wen Xian for People’s Daily. Can you tell us some stories about this initiative. Some personal stories?

MS. MCGIFFERT: Personal stories, oh my. Well, I – this is not directly tied to the initiative, but it’s certainly why I’m here today. My first trip to China was in 1987 as a high school student. I happened to have a family member who was there. This was before Americans were coming to China in large numbers, before the currency was convertible, before there were cars – many cars on the streets, and I lived with a Chinese student and made it my goal to learn Mandarin – my Mandarin’s very bad now – but to come back to China regularly. So I’ve been going to China now for 24 years, and I’m never – it never ceases to amaze me, the changes, the openness of the people, the generosity of the community, and I think that that’s what our young people go over there now and find.

It’s really important, though, that we spend time reaching those students who wouldn’t normally have an opportunity to go. I went because my cousin was there. You take some students from D.C. public high schools who have never left the area, whose family might be smart and ambitious but don’t have the funds to do this, and you create those opportunities for them and their lives are changed. We hear anecdote after anecdote about students who come from underserved communities, who write about their China experience on their college essay, get into the college of their choice, and become East Asian Studies majors, or go into international law, fields that they would never have considered had they not had this experience. And so again, a lot of this is anecdotal, but you talk to any young person who’s had this experience and they have some really fabulous story about making friends with the guy in the noodle cart, or something like that, and trying to maneuver and figure out how to get the most out of this experience. And it’s really quite nice to talk to these people. So –

MODERATOR: Okay. Do we have any last questions?

Okay, with that we will break here. Thank you all very much for coming. I will try and get the briefing transcript to you as soon as possible. Thanks.