The Michigan China Forum held its second annual conference this weekend, discussing the importance of study abroad students in bridging the gap between the United States and China. The conference, titled “New Era, New Responsibility”, invited prominent figures from multiple industries to discuss U.S.-China relations and the importance of the next generation of leaders to further relation development.

The three-day conference, held at the Ross School of Business, consisted of five-panel discussions ranging in topics from sports to the environment and mobility. The Michigan China Forum gathered nearly 40 U.S.-China experts from a diverse range of fields in an effort to connect the University community with China and cultivate dialogues.

The first panel discussion, “Sino-US Relations: The Game between Two Global Leaderships”, discussed China’s trade, industry and intellectual exchange. Associate Public Policy professor Ann Lin moderated the conversation in which panelists discussed the issue of development as it pertains to their area of expertise.

Collectively, the panelists emphasized mutual support and the importance of students immersing themselves in both the Chinese and American experiences. HONG Lei, the Chinese consul general in Chicago, discussed the Chinese government’s open policy for students studying abroad in the United States, as there are about 80,000 Chinese students studying at different U.S. university campuses. 

“Nowadays, China is very much open about the flow of Chinese students, either to stay here in the U.S. or go back to China — both I think are very accepted by the Chinese government,” Lei said. “We hope our young people, both Chinese students and U.S. students, will contribute even more to our bilateral relationship.”

Lei referenced a Pew Research Center study that said 55 percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 had a favorable view of China.

Fan He, director of the Research Institute of Maritime Silk-Road and economics professor at Peking University, encouraged Chinese students who came to the United States to venture outside their university and experience the nation.

“While you are in the United States, you have to learn more about the United States,” he said. “Not only computer science but also American politics, American culture, American history. You can not only stay in Michigan, you have to go other places, so go to Alabama, go to Kansas, go to Montana and talk with those people. There is not one American, there are many Americans, so you have to get the whole picture of what the United States looks like.”

Jun Ni, director of the University of Michigan S.M. Wu Manufacturing Research Center, discussed the importance of being a global ambassador. Ni said anyone can be an ambassador and discussed his own experience between bridging the state of Michigan with China’s Guangdong province.

“I’m sure many of you can do the same thing,” Ni said. “You can build more relationships. There are 30 provinces and 50 states. There are many combinations.”

Jack Hu, the University’s vice president of research, described the importance of embedding oneself in the United States and enriching oneself in academics. He explained it defeats the purpose of studying abroad if students only sit with Chinese students and do work with Chinese students.

“If you are studying in the U.S., you need to be in the U.S., so embed yourself with students from everywhere and learn what they do and how they think. Do not create a small corner where only the Chinese students are in a classroom together,” Hu said. “Onsite unkempt education and unkempt experience are where you really need to spend your time.”

International Policy Center Director John Ciorciari, an associate professor for public policy, echoed these ideas and emphasized the importance of out-of-classroom interaction. He also considered going abroad to be one of the best services one can experience.

LSA senior Zefan Tan attended the conference and said he gained more information to help him make the decision of whether to stay in the U.S. or return home to China after he graduates.

“I think I deepened my understanding of nowadays’ U.S. and China relationship, and I will consider my future more about whether to go back to China or continue studying here,” Tan said.

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