Michelle Obama Urges Students to Study Abroad

By Nia-Malika Henderson, The Washington Post

While President Obama met with Chinese leader Hu Jintao at the White House, first lady Michelle Obama used Hu’s visit to encourage students to become part of the global community at a Howard University forum on studying abroad on Wednesday.

Recalling her own college years where she said her focus was on “getting in, getting through, and getting out,” rather than studying abroad, Obama urged students to get out of their comfort zones and help to “develop that habit of cooperation.”

“Studying in countries like China isn’t only about your prospects in the global marketplace. It’s not just about whether you can compete with your peers in other countries to make America stronger,” Obama said. “It’s also about whether you can come together and work together with them to make our world stronger. Its about the friendships you make, the bonds of trust you establish and the image of America that you project to the rest of the world.”

China is among the top five host countries for American students studying abroad. During the forum, students shared their experiences in China on a panel moderated by Ann Stock, the assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs.

“I personally experienced a deeper bond,” said David Marzban, who studied in Shanghai while a student at Pepperdine University. He related a story of having a sing-along of “California Dreaming” with a Chinese man he met at a restaurant there.

Nicole Baden, a senior at Howard who studied in Beijing, spoke of awkward exchanges over dinner with her host family that improved as Baden became more comfortable with the language.

“We look at ourselves differently, but we really are similar,” she said.

In 2009, President Obama announced the “100,000 Strong Initiative” in China, a program aimed at increasing the number and diversity of American students who travel to and study in that nation.

On Wednesday, the first lady announced $2.25 million in private-sector money to support the initiative, which Secretary of State Hillary Clinton officially launched in May.

“We want you out there, taking some risks and doing some hard things,” Michelle Obama said.