Students promote cultural relations at summit

Forde Womack

Two student founders of WKU’s Project Pengyou recently traveled to a leadership summit held at Harvard University to discuss and learn skills in cross-cultural leadership and how to improve individual chapters of Project Pengyou.

Akron, Ohio, sophomore Francis Wilson and senior Bree Pan, China, established WKU’s chapter last year.

“I had discovered Project Pengyou in my study abroad program in Beijing,” Wilson said. “I was excited and motivated by hearing people’s stories on their abroad experiences, which led me to say ‘Hey, WKU would benefit from these resources!’”

Wilson went to last year’s summit at the University of California Berkeley, and returned this year to shoot photos and be the media producer.

“It was a great experience for me,” Wilson said. “I was able to sit in and relisten to the lectures I had heard previously. What we focused on was how to tell an effective personal narrative our experiences in a way that motivates people to look at China in a different light.”

Pan said she thinks WKU and Bowling Green could benefit from the project in promoting cultural awareness.

“When I first arrived [to America], a man asked me if I ate dog,” Pan said. “All I said was ‘no, but I hear Americans eat dogs, the hot ones.’ So I feel like Western, and Bowling Green would benefit from the project as some people still have stereotypes against Chinese.”

Pan spoke at the summit this year to a blend of people from China and students from American universities who came together to discuss team-building and improving the chapters.

“I was very nervous,” Pan said. “There were a lot of people in the crowd, about 200 people. It was pretty cool. We all met up at Harvard, 14 different chapters, and we are all friends now. It’s surprising how fast we bonded over four days.”

“People think, and reasonably so, that learning Chinese is the way to know China,” Wilson said. “And that’s only part of it; the bigger whole is actually sitting down with people and hearing what they have to say. It’s to help raise a more sensitive, worldly, population so that we can have better relations with nations that were once a threat.”

Many people still believe China is a threat, Wilson said, but he doesn’t see it that way.

“Recently, it’s been essential that we get to know China for reasons of politics and business,” Wilson said. Commonly, people see China as a threat, Wilson said, but he sees it as an opportunity.

Wilson said his primary career goal is to work as a public diplomat in the Department of State in the foreign offices, working primarily as a media consultant to broadcast United States policy and culture with foreign peoples and nations.

“That’s the goal,” Wilson said. “That’s the dream and every step I take I try to focus on that goal.”

Reporter Forde Womack can be reached at 270-745-2655 and [email protected].