It was my privilege to be one of the keynote speakers at the China Annual Conference for International Education in Beijing. The other was a former foreign minister. As it turned out, we both never had the opportunity to study abroad. Although our jobs later gave us the chance to travel— in Minister Li’s case to 183 countries—we both spoke about the opportunity we wished we had.
Minister Li is also now the chairman of the China Public Diplomacy Association. He reaffirmed that international education was one of the primary ways his country is choosing to engage with the world. And, as our latest Open Doors data will show, China is occupying a singular position in our space by not only being the world’s largest source of international students but also as increasingly one of the top destination countries. Within the next three to four years, the number of international students in China is likely to exceed 500,000.
My perspective on these developments is contained in my speech, entitled “Too Soon To Tell?” The title refers to Chou En Lai’s response to a reporter who asked him about the pace of the French Revolution on the occasion of its 200th anniversary.
We know for sure that having an international exchange experience is individually transformative. And we know that when students return, they often bring back initiatives that change and improve local communities through community service best practices learned abroad and outside the classroom.
In the decade ahead, we will begin to see how international education and those who in increasing numbers are returning to their home countries may change them.
In welcoming us, the conference host mentioned his visit to the Institute’s headquarters in September. He told the audience that he was very impressed with our service mark in our reception area and said that Opening Minds to the World was what his and our organizations were all about. Minister Li later said that he would like a copy of the poster our host saw and then told the audience: “opening minds is the best investment any country can make to world peace.”
At that point, I thanked him for giving my speech.