Students to start Project Pengyou chapter

With hopes of learning how to be ambassadors for Chinese study abroad programs and, ultimately, U.S.-China relations, Kyle Obermann ’14 and Andrew Switzer ’14 attended a four-day leadership summit at Harvard University as part of Project Pengyou’s inaugural leadership fellows group.

Project Pengyou, which fittingly means “friend” in Mandarin, is a new organization working to improve relations between the United States and China. The organization encourages American students to study abroad in China and create lasting and meaningful relationships. Additionally, the program is part of President Obama’s 100K for Strong China campaign, which has the similar goal of strengthening U.S.-Chinese relations through travel and Mandarin language learning.

Obermann, who brings the political science knowledge to the team, and Switzer, who has studied Chinese language and culture through the Asian Conversation, were two of 40 China study abroad veterans across the nation who were invited to attend the conference. While there, students learned more about the current state of U.S.-China relations in addition to grassroots organization so they could be well-equipped to establish Project Pengyou chapters at their campuses upon return.

Because of their personal travels in China, Obermann and Switzer have taken it upon themselves to establish an on-campus chapter of Project Pengyou, which will also include Carleton College.

“The organization is all about building bridges,” said Switzer, who participated in Term in China. “We want to build bridges between the Chinese and American students on campus.”

Many students are unaware of the opportunities St. Olaf already provides to get involved with issues related to China.

“Most students don’t know we have a Chinese Fulbright scholar on campus and really knowledgeable professors,” said Obermann, who did research on sustainable development and environmental NGOs in China for the experiential component of his environmental studies concentration. “We want to bring awareness.”

While Obermann and Switzer are seniors, they have been working hard upon their return to get the chapter up and running. Last Friday, they held a meeting for all students who are interested in learning more about U.S.-China relations. “We want to have one collaborative event with Carleton before the end of the year and eventually collaborate with other organizations on campus,” Switzer said.

“The organization’s goal is to have 40 chapters in the United States by October,” Obermann said. At St. Olaf, Project Pengyou will generate interest about this important relationship, educate students about their study abroad options if they wish to travel to China and connect alumni of China programs with one another.

“By creating this organization, we can really tap into our resources,” Obermann said.

The pair is working to set up a leadership team to ensure the success of Project Pengyou next year.

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