Special to the Trice Edney News Wire from the Afro American Newspaper
This summer, 168 students and 22 chaperones from Congressional Black Caucus districts will travel to China, as part of an Black education initiative sponsored by the China – United States Exchange Foundation and China’s Ministry of Education in collaboration with its partners. The program is an extension of the HBCU scholarship initiative announced by Chinese Vice Premier Madam Liu Yandong on Capitol Hill in November 2013.
“This exciting initiative is a cross-cultural relationship-building effort designed to enhance U.S.-China relations – and to give students from predominantly Black American universities and colleges a special opportunity to interact with Chinese students and educators in a progressive and collaborative environment,” said Julia Wilson, CEO and founder of Wilson Global Communications, which is managing the program in the U.S., in a statement.
“It is an amazing opportunity for African-American students to learn about other cultures, languages and history,” she added in an AFRO interview. “And, because China is the second-largest economy in the world behind the United States, it behooves African Americans to pay attention to trends in that country.”
In total, 400 two-week scholarships were awarded to the CBC along with 1,000 longer-term scholarships, ranging from six-weeks to two years awarded to HBCUs, as part of a three-year program.
David Wilson, chairman of the HBCU Network—the schools involved in the program—and president of Morgan State University in Baltimore, said students have shared that traveling beyond their borders and seeing the rising dominance of China in real time have been life-altering.
“For some of the students who have gone on this program this is the first time they have been on a plane, much less visited a different country,” Wilson told the AFRO in an interview one day before traveling to China for the seventh U.S. China Consultation on People-to-People Exchange where he was expected to give an update on the program.
“The students have called their experiences transformational, and they were appreciative of how embracing students in China have been, how much they have learned about Chinese history and culture and what they were able to share with the Chinese students about African-American culture,” he added. “This program is a way to break down barriers that might have existed because of lack of understanding and enable students at HBCUs, who rarely get opportunities to study abroad, to get that opportunity and make themselves more attractive to employers and also open their world view. As a result, when they graduate from our institutions they are no longer hesitant to go to another country to embrace an opportunity.”
For the HBCUs, themselves, the China exchange program has been beneficial not only in enhancing their ability to better mold global leaders but also in their ability to attract other similar partnerships and market themselves to prospective students, Wilson said. Morgan State, for example, now has similar arrangements with Saudi Arabia and Brazil.
Besides their academic activities, the HBCU students will get to tour major Chinese cultural and historic sites, including the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace and the Bird’s Nest stadium, the iconic site of the 2008 Olympics.
Brea Ellis, a sophomore at the University of the District of Columbia, participated in the program last summer. She said she was in such shock over the rare opportunity that she didn’t believe it until she landed in China after a 16-hour flight.
“It was a culture shock after coming from D.C. where I was born and raised,” she told the AFRO.
In addition to the language barrier, the sights, smells and sounds were different as was the food—which in no way resembled the American takeout version of Chinese food. And the Chinese people were just as fascinated with her and the other Black visitors, she said.
“Everywhere we went we would get a lot of stares because they didn’t see many African Americans in China or their only way of seeing us was on television. We were sort of a spectacle but it wasn’t a negative thing, they were just curious,” Ellis said.
The experience, she added, “opened me up to traveling abroad and finding more opportunities to study abroad. It made me more confident.”
Shinzira Shomade, 40, a senior psychology major at Bowie State University is looking forward to making her own discoveries when she travels to China July 16-30.
“I’m already there in my mind,” she said of her excitement.
The aspiring counselor said she looks forward to learning about Chinese society—the nuances of gender relations, seeing how they problem-solve and how seniors are treated, etc.—and applying what she learns to her future practice.
The mother of three girls, who has experienced more of the world than most urban Blacks through the postcards her Navy dad sent from different countries and her time living in Nigeria, said she wants to model to her daughters the importance of being open-minded, learning about different cultures and grasping untapped opportunities.
“You become more confident and you’re able to dream bigger that before,” she said.
Student groups slated to study in China this summer include delegations from: Arkansas, California, Georgia, Kentucky, New York, North Carolina, Maryland, Texas and the District of Columbia. HBCUs involved are: Bowie State University, Clark Atlanta University, Fayetteville State University, Kentucky State University, Morehouse College, Morgan State University, Philander Smith College, Savannah State University, Spelman College and the University of the District of Columbia. Each delegation is comprised of at least 20 students and two chaperones.