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Forum on Global Engagement Comes to a Close

It was four days of astounding seminars, conversations and exchanging of ideas and opinions. The 2011 Forum on Global Engagement wrapped up a voyage that covered who owns the waterways in the South China Sea; entrepreneurship between the U.S. and China; the future of education in China vs. the U.S.; China’s relationship and immigration into Afghanistan, Senegal and throughout much of Africa, and so much more.

Lifelong learners, SAS alumni (both recent and from decades past), scholars, SAS guests and first-time voyagers all left the MV Explorer with an increased

understanding and awareness of the realities between the U.S. and China and having learned considerably more about U.S.–Sino relations.

In addition to the vast information conveyed by speakers, Forum participants enjoyed traditional Chinese music, practiced Tai Chi, and viewed riveting documentary films.

We share highlights from the seminars and conversations with Forum participants from this enlightening voyage.

Early morning Tai Chi aboard the MV Explorer during FGE2011

Some facts garnered from speakers:

  • Asia is home to 3 of the 4 largest national economies in the world measured by GDP.
    • 10 of the 15 fastest growing economies in the world are in Asia.
    • Oil traveling through the South China Sea is more than 6 times the amount that passes through the Suez Canal and 17 times more than passes through than what passes through the Panama Canal.
    • In just 30 years, China has carried out the biggest and fastest of all the industrial revolutions.
    • China‚Äôs GDP (gross domestic product) surpassed Japan in 2010 making China‚Äôs economy the second largest in the world.
    • ‚ÄúThe U.S. is China‚Äôs largest trading partner. And china is the u.s.‚Äôs 2ndlargest trading partner. Total
      Forum participants try their hand at traditional Chinese instruments

      bilateral trade approaches nearly $500 billion a year, making this trade relationship one of the most important in the world.”

Forum participants experienced an extraordinary take-away from the four-day Forum. Here’s what they had to say:

Leslie Middleton, Executive Director, Rivanna River Basin Commission, Charlottesville, VA
“What I’ve been reflecting on most is the community that exists on the ship and the continuity of life experiences and relationships that people develop, even in such a short time as on the Forum. …I’ve noticed the tremendous openness of everyone to share their stories so freely. …The global engagement component of this Forum is really tremendous. The conversations on China and the U.S. has been really beneficial and helpful to me. It’s opened my eyes to a number of issues and new views about China.”

Elizabeth Ashforth, chemistry teacher, Marlborough School, Los Angeles, CA
“I really enjoyed seeing the documentary films [by Xiaoli Zhou and Brent Huffman]. I had no idea that China was in Afghanistan and how fast China is developing in areas around the world. My impression of China at times has been of all these factories making plastic toys that we in the U.S. import, even though I know many of the best scientists are Chinese as well as so many great students. It was Jim McNerney [CEO of Boeing] who really crystallized for me how China is building cities with a function around education. It’s quite fascinating.”

Jean Matthews, 80, SAS alum (Summer 2004 and Summer 2010), Atlanta, GA
“I’m excited about this [Semester at Sea] program and about being here [for the Forum]. I visited China in 1983 and I’ve really enjoyed the sessions and hearing about how much the country has changed and advanced. It’ been a great treat for me to be around so many brainy people on the ship. I especially liked Chung Po Yang and his talk about management vs. service experience and future in business.”

Laura Silver, 25, SAS alum (Fall 2001, Summer 2008, Summer 2010), Ph.D. student, UPenn
“I attended the last Forum, but I especially enjoyed this one because the focus of my doctorate is on China. …I thought Daniel Piccuta did a great job explaining the differences in mentality and the waterways as territory and I thought it fit well with Chung Po Yang’s talk. …You have a better understanding of China through the Forum. It’s not this aggressive power as it’s represented in the U.S. media. …These sessions have really helped give me an interesting framework for my future studies.”

Lee Riedinger, prof. of physics, Univ. of Tennessee, SAS alum (taught Spring 2010)
‚ÄúThis is the first Forum I‚Äôve attended. I’ve been impressed by the quality of the audience as well as the speakers. People are well-versed and really engaged in what‚Äôs being said. ‚ĶI‚Äôve been to China a lot because of my work in energy and have taught in Shanghai, but to have this extended discussion on China from different perspectives has been very good for me.‚Äù



And, the final word from Forum speakers……

Daniel Piccuta, Foreign policy advisor to the commander & launch director of the Pacific Outreach Directorate, U.S. Pacific Command
“China doesn’t see itself as a rising power. China was preeminent during 1800 of the past 2000 years and I believe china sees itself returning to that position. The exception in Chinese minds has been the

most recent couple of centuries during which china was down. And as Americans it’s worth remembering that those were the very same 2 centuries in which the U.S. was born, raised matured and came to be the world’s largest economy and sole global superpower. China’s rise is not aimed at the U.S.A, but we will have to take responsibility for how we handle china’s return to a position of eminence.”

*   *   *

“I believe more Chinese are freer now than they have ever been. Yes, I believe we do have an obligation [to address China’s human rights problem]. I also believe that we can’t hold a relationship this important hostage to one issue [such as human rights], but we do have an obligation. That being said… I was delighted to have had an array of Chinese activists to dinner at my residence [in China] and to think that we could have a conversation that was pretty open. Then one [dinner guest] ended up in custody and then silenced. And, I learned, not too long ago, that a lawyer and law professor who was also at that dinner had resurfaced and talked about his detention.  I hadn’t even realized that he had been detained.”

Sean O’Sullivan speaks with Forum guest

Sean O’Sullivan, co-founder, Chinaccelerator

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete. So, we can use that to our advantage just as China can use that to their advantage. …I think china has done a remarkably great approach to using entirely new models. That approach of changing the way of models is something that entrepreneurs need to often do.”


Molly Corbett Broad, president, American Council on Education
“We have 19 million students enrolled in higher education in the U.S. and only 250,000 have any kind of international experience and on 10,000-12,000 have an experience that is a year or longer. …But it is programs like semester at sea that I think will help us move along in the right direction.”

*   *   *

“So, let us not fear the rise of China but rather let us rise by the inspiration we draw from their commitment and their dedication to excellence. And may we do likewise in our teaching and our research to the very best of our abilities.”


Please join us for the next Forum on Global Engagement.

Check the Semester at Sea website for details and to hear podcasts from the 2011 Forum on Global Engagement.





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  • Culture
  • Education

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