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The U.S. first lady Michelle Obama speaks on the values of educational and cultural exchanges

Peking University, Mar.22, 2014: The U.S. first lady Michelle LaVaughn Obama paid a visit to Peking University and addressed the importance of studying abroad and other cultural exchanges. 

 

“In studying abroad, you’re not just changing your own life…you’re changing the lives of everyone you meet,” said Michelle in her speech to an audience of Chinese and American students from Peking University (PKU/Beida) at the Stanford Center of PKU on March 22, 2014.

 

 

Better to travel 10,000 miles than to read 10,000 books

 

Focused on educational and cultural exchanges among young people, Michelle first noted that “by learning each other’s languages and by showing curiosity and respect for each other’s cultures…all of you are building bridges of understanding that will lead to so much more.”

 

“Studying abroad isn’t just a fun way to spend a semester – it’s quickly becoming the key to success in our global economy,”said the first lady.

 

In her mind, strong academic performance is not enough if one is to get ahead in today’s workplaces. It also means “having real experience with the world beyond your borders – experience with languages, cultures and societies very different from your own,”she added.

By quoting the Chinese saying: “It is better to travel ten thousand miles than to read ten thousand books,” Michelle encouraged more young people to study abroad to shape the future of China and the U.S. and of the world. 

 

The only way forward is together

 

In the global context of shared challenges including climate change and economic development, “No one country can confront them alone…the only way forward is together.” Michelle stressed the word “together” to emphasize the importance of cooperation.

 

She also noted that “we all have a stake in each other’s success” by describing China and the U.S. could share medical and technological discoveries, as well as architectural inspiration.

 

“That’s when the connections you make as classmates or lab mates can blossom into something more.” Michelle took examples from both Chinese and American students who built relations with each other. “These lasting bonds represent the true value of studying abroad,” she remarked. 

 

Opportunities for all

 

“China is currently the fifth most popular destination for Americans studying abroad” while “the highest number of exchange students in the U.S. is from China.”These numbers makes one thrilled, “But still, too many students never have this chance,” she pointed out. 

 

A graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School, the first lady told her own story to highlight the necessity of more opportunities for students to study abroad.

 

“I came from a working class family…and it never occurred to me to study abroad, ever.” She added, “Study abroad shouldn’t just be for students from certain backgrounds.”

 

She explained that announcement of the 100,000 Strong initiative back in 2009 was a tremendous effort to “increase the number and diversity of American students studying in China.”

 

Also, this year the U.S. governments supports more American students in China than elsewhere as the two countries mark the 35thanniversary of the normalization of the bilateral relations.

 

A new era of citizen diplomacy

 

When discussing about people-to-people exchange, Michelle viewed the time as “a new era of citizen diplomacy,” a quote from Philmon Haile, a U.S. student studying in China.

 

“You don’t need to get on a plane to be a citizen diplomat,” she said, stressing the power of technology- the wonder of modern technology is granting people with open access to information and ideas. 

 

She described the audience as “America’s best face, and China’s best face, to the world,” and urges that “you keep teaching each other and learning from each other, and building bonds of friendship that will enrich your lives and enrich our world for decades to come.”

 

In a brief statement, Prof. Wang Enge, PKU President, offered warm greetings to the first lady, and appreciated the tremendous efforts she has made to promote the Sino-US educational and cultural exchanges. He also introduced to the guest a soon-to-launch academic initiative Yenching Academy, which aims at making PKU a global hub of renowned scholars and students. 

 

 

 

 

Following the speech, the first lady received a book entitled The History of Chinese Civilization from Zhu Shanlu, Chairman of PKU council. 

 

 

 

 

Michelle also had a virtual educational trip with Chinese and American students from PKU and Stanford University though the online Highly Interactive Classroom. Their discussion centered on the influence that technology exerts over the globalization of educational experiences. 

 

 

 

Written by: Zhang Shiling

Edited by: Zhang Jiang