THE BLOG
06/05/2014 01:55 pm ET Updated Aug 05, 2014

US-China Student Summit Creates Tomorrow's Relationships Today

Imagine what would happen if you brought nearly 400 university-age students together -- half from the US and half from China. They have never met; they have probably never traveled to each other's country; they likely know very little about each other's culture, history, politics or language.
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It would be the start of something pretty spectacular. It would be an opportunity for our two nations' young people to get to know each other, share their differences and appreciate their commonalities. And, it could open doors to study abroad; a future career; or a more constructive, strategic country-to-country dialogue.

Let's face it, the US-China relationship is the most important relationship of the 21st century. No challenge on the planet -- whether it is the economy or global security, climate change or nuclear nonproliferation -- can be tackled without the US and China. We need to work together, and to do that we must get to know and understand one another.

This is the shared mission of WorldStrides, America's largest education travel organization, and the 100,000 Strong Foundation, a national nonprofit devoted to strengthening the US-China relationship through study abroad and Mandarin language learning. WorldStrides, 100K Strong's exclusive educational travel partner, organized the first-ever US-China Student Summit in Beijing on May 31 and June 1, bringing together nearly 200 American university students from more than 30 US campuses and nearly 200 of their Chinese peers.

Participating US students spent time at Peking University and Tsinghua University Affiliated High School learning about what it is like to grow up and study in China, the importance of the US-China relationship and the role students can play -- along with their Chinese peers -- as global leaders. They met with top Chinese and US government officials, academic administrators and professors, and cultural leaders. Preceding the Summit, the US students spent a week in Beijing and Shanghai, visiting high schools, universities, businesses and cultural sites.

The US-China Student Summit is about more than just a trip to China. It is about enhancing cross-cultural understanding and sparking interest in studying abroad and language learning. Hopefully, for the US students in particular, they will want to return to China to learn and see more. Next time, we hope they will to stay longer.

Study abroad can be an intimidating undertaking, particularly for students from underrepresented communities who might never have thought it possible. These Americans -- from every background, from all across the country -- have never been to China before. Many of them will catch the China "bug" and choose to make China part of their lives.

More and more Chinese students flock to the US for study each year. And the good news is the number of US students studying in China is on the rise, too -- growing at between 20 and 30 percent annually over the last five years. But we need and must do more to encourage Americans to embrace China, not only as a destination for study, but as a country they appreciate and understand. We guarantee it will open the doors of opportunity.

That is the goal of the 100K Strong Foundation, which was launched in 2013 to dramatically expand the number and diversity of US students studying in China and learning Mandarin. The 100K Strong Foundation believes that the more our young people learn about China, its people and its language, the stronger the US-China relationship will be.

WorldStrides shares that objective and is partnering with the Foundation to encourage more and more US students to set aside their fears and study in China, learn the language and form lasting friendships.

The first US-China Student Summit in Beijing was the start of something meaningful and enduring. Today, we must start building the relationships of tomorrow.

Jim Hall is the President and CEO of WorldStrides, and Carola McGiffert is the President of the 100,000 Strong Foundation.