Touring a city with a group of students, parents, siblings, and teachers could be conceived as a relatively ordinary experience, except that I was touring the Forbidden City with American high school students studying abroad in China on the National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y) program. The parents and siblings were members of their Chinese host families and the teachers are from their international high school, Beijing 80, known for its excellent academics and offering a unique cultural experience for its 3,000 students. The American students, who represent all corners of the United States, are perfecting their Mandarin skills, taking advantage of after school activities, living with host families, and learning about China's rich culture.
I was in Beijing to participate in the U.S.-China Consultation on People-to-People Exchange (CPE), where education, culture, and youth were of particular focus, so it was especially meaningful for me to see this dynamic student-to-student exchange in action between the United States and China. The NSLI-Y students serve as American youth ambassadors, showcasing our values and culture to individuals who are often meeting Americans for the first time.
The students were eager to share their experiences and newfound perspectives with me on the past year. While enhancing their language skills, all of the students gained a deeper understanding and appreciation of Chinese culture and traditions. One student commented that she felt more patriotic as a result of this experience, noting that it gave her an opportunity to reflect on the United States' diversity. Another student noted that it offered her the chance to see the United States through an international lens, gaining a better understanding of our strengths and also where we can follow the example of other countries. Having spent time with each of these students, it is apparent that this experience has had a tremendous impact on their lives. They are now global citizens and will forever carry this newfound insight with them in their future endeavors, building life-long friendship among future leaders of our countries.
More than 250 NSLI-Y students will study Mandarin in China this summer, and another 20 will spend the 2013-14 academic year in China.