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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

URI contingent supports First Lady’s push for “100,000 Strong Initiative”

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KINGSTON, R.I. – January 25, 2011 – Four University of Rhode Island students applauded First Lady Michelle Obama call last week for greater participation in study abroad programs.

The four, who are part of the school’s Chinese Language Flagship Partner Program, were in the audience at Howard University’s Cramton Auditorium in Washington, D.C. last Wednesday to hear Obama speak. Juniors Kaylen Duarte, of Warwick, Patrick Slavin, of East Greenwich, Ai Chang Guo of Middletown, and freshman Alyssa Zisk, of Sharon, Mass. represented the University at Obama’s appearance, which supported President Obama’s “100,000 Strong Initiative.”

More than 1000 students from around the country were on hand to hear Mrs. Obama’s speech, which focused on the importance of building relationships with student peers in China to create mutual understanding of different cultures around the world.

“Studying in countries like China isn’t only about your prospects in the global marketplace,” Obama told the audience. “It’s not just about whether you can compete with your peers in other countries to make America stronger. It’s also about whether you can come together, and work together with them to make our world stronger. It’s 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.”

The “100,000 Strong Initiative” was unveiled by President Obama during a 2009 visit to China. Last week, Michelle Obama announced that more than $2.25 million in private sector pledges had been secured, increasing the number and diversity of American students studying in China. The D.C. Center for Global Education and Leadership will create up to 1,000 study abroad opportunities over the next four years in support of the president’s initiative for students, teachers, and education policymakers from Washington, D.C. public and public charter schools, an underserved community.

The URI contingent – all of whom said the Chinese Language Flagship Partner Program has had a major impact on their academic careers – applauded the First Lady’s message.

“It’s nice to hear that the government feels these type of programs are so important,” said Duarte, a journalism major.

“It was really a call for more students to get involved in study abroad programs,” said Slavin, a marketing major. “That’s something we all agree with. When you study abroad, you get a real personal experience in another culture. You learn that we’re similar to other cultures, despite our differences. It’s a chance to dispel myths and stereotypes we have of other cultures.”

Each of the four students has already studied abroad in China twice, with plans to return before graduation. URI is one of just nine schools in the country to offer the Chinese Flagship program, joining Arizona State University, Brigham Young University, Hunter College (City University of New York), Indiana University, San Francisco State University, the University of Mississippi, the University of Oregon and Western Kentucky University.

By being one of the universities to offer the Chinese Language Flagship Program, URI is providing better opportunities for students.

“We need to know more about other cultures than the language that you learn in the classroom,” said Chang Guo, a fashion merchandizing major. “Students in China start taking foreign languages by the time they are 8 years old. People there are able to speak. Their understanding of our culture is more advanced, which obviously helps them in terms of the global market.”

One of the key areas stressed by Obama was getting more minorities involved in study abroad programs. That the First Lady delivered her speech at a historically black university was not lost on the URI students.

“There is a need to specifically target black and Hispanic students for study abroad programs,” Duarte said. “It was noticeable in the crowd. The students were mostly white and Asian. We need to make sure that all students are aware of these programs and the opportunities they provide.”

URI’s Chinese Language Flagship Partner Program was either a draw or a reason to stay at URI for the four students who attended Obama’s speech to the University. Zisk, who is majoring in mechanical engineering and mathematics, said that URI was not on her wish list until Erin Papa, coordinator of the Chinese Language Flagship Partner Program, visited her high school.

“URI was not on the map for me until I heard about this program,” Zisk said. “Erin convinced me because of the flagship program. It changed my life, my goals for the future and my view of the world.”

Similarly, Duarte and Slavin said they both considered transferring before getting involved in the program.

“Now I have no regrets about being here,” Duarte said. “This program has become such a huge part of my life and has opened doors for me that I didn’t know where there.”

Pictured above
Michelle Obama - First Lady Michelle Obama speaks about the "100,000 Strong
Initiative" to stress the importance of study abroad opportunities during an
appearance at Howard University in Washington, D.C. last week.

URI students Ai Chang Guo, Kaylen Duarte, Alyssa Zisk and Patrick
Slavin were on hand to hear the First Lady's speech.
Photos are courtesy of Kaylen Duarte