Project Pengyou advocates for Chinese cultural awareness

For hundreds of Geneseo students, a quality study abroad experience is key to a well-rounded education. Despite programs on six continents, however, students frequently zero in on European countries. Project Pengyou, a Chinese cultural initiative, is working to change that. Project Pengyou is a national organization that works to increase awareness of Chinese study abroad programs on campuses in almost 30 states. Its goal is to “[create] a network for students who have even an inkling that they want to study in China,” according to junior Christina Lu, one of the founders of the Geneseo chapter.

Lu and senior William Jockers attended a leadership summit at Harvard University over  fall break to meet the other delegates for Project Pengyou and learn the essentials to start and maintain an on-campus organization. Out of about 300 applicants nationwide, about 40 were accepted from 30 states––including Lu and Jockers––to attend this summit.

“The four days of training focused on practical leadership tools; to teach us how to mobilize people and resources as an organizer for constructive United States/China engagement in the Geneseo community,” Lu said.  The summit discussed leadership, communication, networking and identity.

The summit consisted of four days of waking up early to attend workshops, followed by assigned homework and reading. It may sound tedious, but the summit greatly inspired Jockers and Lu.

“Just to be in a room with 50 people and be able to have conversations for hours and hours on end … you’re surrounded by endless possibility,” Jockers said.

The pair is in the process of bringing this possibility to Geneseo. Their executive board will ideally be solidified this week and they are currently on their way to gaining Student Activities approval.

Aside from the overarching goal of U.S./China engagement through study abroad, Pengyou is endorsing an exchange program created by sociology professor Elaine Cleeton. Students on this trip would attend a school near Hong Kong called Sun University.

In addition, the club plans to hold on-campus awareness events such as Project Pengyou Day on Nov. 20. They will a share students’ study abroad stories and pictures, have panel discussions with professors and spread scholarship information. The goal behind these efforts is to make students more comfortable with Chinese culture and increase awareness of the human and cultural side of China.

“We all have firsthand experience in China with the culture, the language and the people,” Lu said. “We understand how that works, so we are going to be sharing our stories, sharing our pictures.”

In light of recent events in Hong Kong, Lu and Jockers also plan on holding some type of rally or walk with Democracy Matters. “We can mobilize on injustice … this is the least that we can do,” Lu said.

China is extremely relevant in today’s society. Project Pengyou hopes to emphasize its importance and encourage students to engage with the culture and people.

“China is one of the most important countries in the world, and it’s not going anywhere anytime soon, and neither is the U.S,” Lu said. “To make that relationship between the two superpowers comes down to the people’s relationships.”