Last month, I traveled to Beijing and Xi'an with Matt McMahon, the Fulbright Chief for East Asia. It was the first time I had been to China, and I was excited to see firsthand Fulbright and other Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs exchange programs at work. Overall, we shared an informative and enlightening week with insightful and generous hosts, and we're proud of the work that ECA and its program participants are doing there.
We arrived in a snowy Beijing and met with officials from the Chinese Ministry of Education and later representatives from Hanban, a Teachers of Critical Languages Program partner. With the upcoming Consultation on People-to-People Exchanges scheduled in May, we had plenty to discuss. Exciting progress is also being made on the "100,000 Strong" initiative to encourage Americans to study in China.
That evening, we shared a tasty dinner of Peking duck with a host of past and current Fulbrighters. Some of the Americans were studying Chinese through Fulbright awards, and there was even a married couple who were both teaching English in support of our programs! The Chinese alumni, who were from Fulbright and the Humphrey Fellowship Program, had a strong commitment to sustaining the impact of their exchanges and infectious enthusiasm to match.
We also visited a Beijing vocational school that partners with ECA in the English Access Microscholarship Program. Students applauded every time we entered a classroom, and we were impressed by their determination to practice their English with us...as well as the butter cookies they baked with help from a visiting Canadian chef!
Then, it was on to Xi'an, a former Silk Road capital and a major city and academic center in Northwest China. Today, Xi'an is home to three Chinese universities that send and receive Fulbright and Critical Language Scholarship participants and English Language Fellows. We met with officials from Shaanxi Normal University, Northwest University, and Xi'an International Studies University to discuss Fulbright and other exchange opportunities.
At Xi'an International Studies University, we were delighted to hear how Critical Language Scholarship students set an example for others. Their rigorous work has produced impressive gains in Chinese fluency, according to students' language test scores. And at each university, we met impressive Fulbright alumni on faculty, as well as one faculty member who will begin a Fulbright program at the University of California, Berkeley this fall. Xi'an International Studies University Professor and Fulbright alum Wu Yongzhi was especially generous in sharing his knowledge of the region's culture during our visit.
During one memorable evening in Xi'an, we talked with a dynamic group of American participants and their family members over pizza. Two Fulbright scholars, Joseph Kennedy and Maria Savasta-Kennedy, are both University of North Carolina law professors who currently teach at Northwest University. Their twin sons and daughter are abroad with them and now attend public school in Xi'an. The family is making academic and professional contributions through the Fulbright Program, and having American children studying alongside their Chinese peers is truly a valuable people-to-people experience, with an impact that will last for decades to come.
U.S. Fulbright students Anna, Jenny, Jeremy, Noah, and Yang were all bright, articulate, and multi-talented -- and comfortable with spoken Chinese. Their research spans subjects from water resources and urban history to Chinese art and education.
Embassy Beijing arranged a terrific and comprehensive program that allowed us to engage with a range of Chinese interlocutors in the field of international education, and spending time with exchange participants and alumni was particularly gratifying. We were inspired by all that they're achieving, and we returned home to Washington feeling optimistic about the value of educational exchange in the relationship between our two countries.