By Mack Lorden (Qingdao, China ’13)
Studying abroad in China changed my life.
My first time outside of the U.S., I went to a country with a culture so very different from my own that I had no idea what to expect. However, upon landing halfway around the world for OSU’s Summer Intensive Qingdao Program, it didn’t take long before I felt right at home.
The people were incredibly welcoming and hospitable; the language, though difficult at first, was fun to practice, and the Chinese people I met thoroughly enjoyed helping me with it. The scenery, of course—from Qing dynasty architecture to views of the lush countryside from a bullet train—was stunning. I enjoyed it so much that I applied for a Critical Language Scholarship and returned for a second summer in Qingdao before starting my Chinese Flagship master’s coursework at Ohio State.
As a CLS Alumni Ambassador, with the many resources in my CLS community and the experiences I have had in China, I now realize there was a need to be a part of a network like Project Pengyou (projectpengyou.org). Not only did I have a story to tell others who had not yet been to China, but I also wanted to be part of a network of people who had been to China and knew exactly what I was talking about.
When I learned of Project Pengyou’s inaugural Leadership Summit in early February of this year, I was thrilled to have an opportunity to help build a community of past, present, and future China alumni. This leadership conference seemed to be the perfect way to learn how to help build this community and increase interest in and understanding of China. Later in March, I happily accepted a position at the conference.
The four-day summit was held at Harvard University and was spearheaded by Holly Chang, founder and president of the Golden Bridges Foundation and current leader of ProjectPengyou.org. The Golden Bridges Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization created in 2007 to promote mutual understanding between China and the West through charitable projects. In similar fashion, with personal endorsements from Hillary Clinton and previous U.S. Ambassador Gary Locke, Project Pengyou was established to provide a large network for all China alumni as well as those who currently work with China.
The summit’s primary focus was to promote an opportunity to “gain unique hands-on training in cross-cultural leadership and community-organizing methods, and learn strategic skills to mobilize people and resources as part of a national grassroots campaign.” In short, the training was everything we expected and more, and we are committed to reaching the goal of President Obama’s 100,000 Strong Initiative.
From the moment I landed at Logan International Airport in Boston until the time I boarded my flight home, I was surrounded by an inspiring group of leaders, thinkers, and activists. It made me proud to represent the CLS Program among such an elite group. During the four-day conference, we were taught the equivalent of a semester-long Harvard leadership course administered by several of Marshall Ganz’s personal Leadership Fellows. Marshall Ganz is often regarded as a revolutionary grassroots campaign leader and professor, and is also credited with the successful Obama campaign in 2008.
On the first day of the conference, we learned basic organizing leadership practices, as well as how to communicate our values through storytelling, bringing alive the emotion that is a necessary pre-condition for changing the world.
On the second day, we learned the importance of community building, in which the existing support circles of those who have been involved with China can continue to expand and connect with others. Our community and these relationships are rooted in the shared values we have for the need to improve the U.S.-China relationship.
On the third day of the conference, we concentrated on strategy and action— how to strengthen our organization and attract and engage new people. Finally, on the last day of the conference, we had the opportunity to speak with a panel of experts on U.S.-China relations, including a U.S. Department of State Foreign Service Officer, the co-founder of the Committee of 100, representatives from the 100,000 Strong Foundation, and more. This served as an excellent way to gain true perspective on how important our two countries’ relationship is in today’s globalizing world.
One of Project Pengyou’s core beliefs is that the United States and China hold the world’s most important bilateral relationship, but the relationship is highly complex, challenging, and multi-faceted. As pengyous, we believe people with frontline experiences in China are the most crucial and valuable asset in managing U.S.-China ties. We are calling for all students and scholars who have studied in China to become leaders for Project Pengyou. We also welcome anyone who is interested in China and would like to become more involved. We believe that through personal storytelling and passionate belief in our cause, we can increase the number of those interested in China, studying abroad, and doing business with China, ultimately improving the U.S.-China relationship.
For future CLS participants and alumni alike, Project Pengyou is an opportunity to stay in touch with those who shared similar international experiences, challenges, and successes. This network will also keep you current on events and news concerning our two great nations. Sign up for free at ProjectPengyou.org, and become part of one of the fastest growing networks on the web!
For further information on how to get involved with your local Project Pengyou chapter, please contact Mack Lorden.