I could think of little else after hearing of the China-America Student Conference (ChASC) in a webinar last summer. I researched its origins in International Student Conferences Inc. (ISC), a nonprofit founded as a result of the Japan-American Student Conference (JASC) which began in 1934. At that time, citizens of both countries convened a student-led Conference to establish friendly relations amidst increasing bilateral tension. The Conference has persisted through the challenges and triumphs of the past 86+ years, and ISC now also hosts Korea-America and China-America Student Conferences.
Although my interest in Chinese language and culture began years ago, I realized through researching ISC that many of my early cross-cultural experiences were informed by academic or media perspectives, not by person-to-person connection. I hoped by joining ChASC as an American Delegate to both share my experiences and see beyond my Western lens through the perspectives of the Chinese Delegates.
The autumn Conference session consisted of virtual meetings through which we built rapport with fellow Delegates, received professional development training from a diplomat, and constructed a collective history of US-China relations in an exercise with the U.S. Institute of Peace. Each night of the two-week winter session included student-led discussions of recommended readings followed by a speaker presentation and Q&A. Seasoned foreign service officers, international journalists, successful entrepreneurs, and a myriad of scholars all shed light on the nuances of US-China relations.
While these presentations were invaluable, nightly breakout room discussions where Delegates shared candid perspectives embodied the true spirit of ChASC. In addition to these virtual face-to-face conversations, we filled a group chat with media recommendations, follow-up questions, and memes. After two weeks spent forging relationships and learning together, the bittersweet final night of the Conference consisted of a pajama party and elections for the Executive Committee which will plan the next Conference.
As I reflect on ChASC, I’m overwhelmed with gratitude for this network of talented peers seeking to improve the future of bilateral relations. Yet I’m more grateful for this new circle of friends who share vulnerably, listen compassionately, and love beyond borders. I’m excited for our spring programming and the opportunity as a newly elected Executive Committee member to plan and share this life-changing experience with the Delegates of ChASC 2.