NEW YORK, Nov. 8 (Xinhua) -- The annual Study in China Alumni Night was held at the Chinese Consulate General in New York on Friday, where some 100 Americans were invited to share their stories as a student in China and exchanged their thoughts on bilateral ties.
Most of the participants of the event used words like "eye-opening" and "life-changing" to describe their experience in China, saying that such exchanges are vital to boosting mutual understanding, which is very much needed regarding the current situation in bilateral ties.
"I was just astounded by how little we knew about China before we got there," Anushka Prasad described how she felt upon her arrival in Beijing at a panel discussion. "I think my mind was blown."
During her days at Tsinghua University, Prasad was amazed by the progress China had made in such a short period of time spanning so many areas including economic growth, improvement in education standards, poverty elimination and air pollution reduction.
After leaving China in 2018, the Indian American decided to establish a non-profit that aims to increase people-to-people exchange and understanding between China and India, and founded the China India Foundation.
"I want a country like India really to understand how china achieved the amount of progress that it did and take what it can apply," she added.
Joshua Bunnell, a marketing and communications professional, is deeply impressed by China's rapid advancement in technology, saying that young Americans with business ambitions could take advantage of this trend.
Bunnell started his own company in east China's Hangzhou after studying in Xi'an and Shanghai. His company helps foreign entrepreneurs and western start-ups enter the Chinese market.
"There's so much opportunity for students, especially with the lower cost of living (in China)," he said, adding that many of his American peers obtained an entrepreneurship visa to start a company immediately after graduation in China.
Peter Jensen, founder of the Manhattan-based Jensen Law Firm PLLC, was among the first batch of Americans studying in modern China in the mid-1980s.
"I remember riding a bicycle in Beijing and causing traffic accidents because people have never seen a white person," Jensen recalled with laughter.
This experience has "certainly had a tremendous influence on my personal career and helped me with my business and understanding the larger world," said the lawyer who is fluent in Mandarin.
All panelists believe there's a need for more mutual understanding between the two countries, especially for Americans to learn more about China.
"The amount of exposure that Chinese people have had to the United States has changed dramatically," leading to a mismatch in the level of knowledge between the two, said Jessica Bissett, director of leadership programs at the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations.
Bissett went to Beijing in 2004, when many Chinese people were not aware of what the United States really looked like, she said.
But today, there are over 300,000 Chinese students studying in the United States, 30 times as many as the number of U.S. students in China, statistics showed.
After traveling around China and homestaying with Chinese families, "we found that we had much more in common than we would have realized," Bissett said. Now part of her job is to encourage young leaders to experience both countries regardless of their career path, as she believes all kinds of collaborations could happen between the two largest economies.
"To really understand a place, it's important for you to physically go there, talk to people...and go experience the diversity that those of both countries can showcase," she noted. "It's part of their responsibility once they return to their home countries to teach other people what they have learned and be ambassadors for the relationship."
Prasad also believes that people-to-people exchange is like "infrastructure" in building bilateral ties as "a lot of knowledge transfer happens when people speak to each other."
And that's not enough for effective communication because "if you really want people to come together, you can put them in a room; but to get them to dance together is different," she noted, adding that the most significant part in exchanges is to "think about how other people think and where their values and their systems and their thinking come from."
"Any people-to-people exchanges is great as long as we make sure people are finding ways to get a break from their own mental paradigms and look beyond themselves," she added.