During Howard University Visit, Michelle Obama Urges Students To Study Abroad

With Chinese leader Hu Jintao visiting Washington this week for talks with President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama traveled to nearby Howard University Wednesday morning where she urged students to study abroad and help strengthen the U.S. presence in the global community. 

“Studying abroad isn’t just an important part of a well-rounded educational experience. It’s also becoming increasingly important for success in the modern global economy. Getting ahead in today’s workplaces isn’t just about the skills you bring from the classroom. It’s also about the experience you have with the world beyond our borders—with people, and languages, and cultures that are very different from our own,” the First Lady told the Howard University study abroad forum audience during a speech.

In addition to coinciding with Jintao’s state visit, the First Lady’s talk brought fresh attention to the Obama administration’s “100,000 Strong Initiative,” a program aimed at increasing the number and diversity of American students who travel to and study in China. During her Howard visit, Obama was joined by Madame Chen Naiqing, the wife of China’s ambassador to the U.S., Zhang Yesui, and Mary Kaye Huntsman, wife of U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman. 

On Wednesday, the administration announced more than $2.25 million in private sector pledges in support of the initiative’s goal of increasing the number and diversity of American students studying in China. Private sector support includes $1 million pledges by both Caterpillar Inc. and Citigroup, and $100,000 pledges by Motorola Solutions Foundation and the U.S.-China Education Trust (USCET). The funding is expected to advance the goal of increasing the number of American students who study in China by 2014, particularly among under-represented groups such as minority and community college students, according to administration officials.

“To start, Secretary [Hillary] Clinton, who’s been a tireless champion for this program, has just launched a ‘Double the Numbers Challenge.’ She’s asking college and university presidents to double the number of students who study in China. And we’re placing a special emphasis on reaching Hispanic Serving Institutions and Historically Black Colleges and Universities like Howard,” Mrs. Obama announced.

In addition to the First Lady’s remarks, a panel of students who studied in China shared their stories with audience members. Critical Language Scholarship winner Nicole Baden of Howard University; Lyric Carter from Phelps Architecture, Construction and Engineering High School in Washington, D.C.; and Gilman scholarship winners Valery Lavigne from the College of New Jersey and David Marzban from Pepperdine University talked about their experiences studying in China with moderator Ann Stock, Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs.

Baden, a senior at Howard who studied in Beijing, told the audience about awkward conversations over dinner with her host family that gradually saw improvement as she became more fluent in Chinese, The Washington Post reported.

“We look at ourselves differently, but we really are similar,” Baden said, according to The Washington Post.