Impacting peace with cross-cultural communication

Increase font size
Decrease font size

One student, with enough motivation and desire to spur change, can impact hundreds of others.

Yu Zhou, a junior international student in the Gillings School of Global Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, was able to take both qualities and leverage his ability to create change internationally, with a little help from fellow students and $10,000.

Through the Davis Projects for Peace initiative, Zhou established Young Scholars International (YSI), a program that helps UNC students studying abroad enrich their international experience by implementing self-designed seminars in high schools abroad. As the director, Zhou had an inspiring, positive effect on 275 high school students in Beijing and Tianjin, China this summer.

Assisted by a team of 15 UNC-Chapel Hill students, Zhou worked with six high school coordinators from China, and together, presented a range of classroom seminars aimed at opening the eyes of young people to a broader cultural experience. He described his mission for the program as, “facilitating cross-cultural communication through academic conversations.”

YSI was designed to occur during a three-week period in July 2011 with 35 seminars scheduled to be presented. Collectively, the seminars totaled close to 50 classroom hours of teaching and discussion.

According to Zhou, the diversity of majors and academic interests of the students from UNC helped to foster understanding of the relationship between Chinese and Western cultures by showing both differences and a “common humanity” that people of both cultures possess.

YSI seminar leaders were paired into teams of one international student from China and one UNC student studying abroad in China. They each designed their seminars based on their interests and their academic experience at UNC, then presented them to Chinese high school students. Special topics in politics, music, gender studies, public health and business innovations were included in the 90-minute seminars.


Zhou, who is originally from China, has had this goal in mind for quite some time. Remembering his lack of a liberal arts education while growing up in his native country, Zhou said this project reflected his excitement for academic learning and cross cultural communication.

“I went to the other seminars, and I learned something I did not know,” he said. “Each seminar was a lesson for me.”

And if a lesson for Zhou, many topics were certainly a learning experience for the students in China.

“The seminars opened my eyes and inspired me to think from different perspectives and from a global level rather than local level. The seminars also helped me practice my English skills,” said Yuting He, a high school student at Huiwen Middle School.

Wilson Sayre, a seminar leader in the program said, “As a teacher, I still found the seminars to be fulfilling and intellectually stimulating, … not only as an exchange of ideas, but of cultural and ideological differences. I do think the program should continue in some form as the philosophy and the heart is in the right place.”

Arming students with multiple perspectives on the world through global discussions was a given outcome of the project, but much more was produced in the end. Friendships, connections and personal assessments for both the students and the leaders are encouraging benefits.

Zhou is grateful to Davis Projects for Peace which awarded him the grant to develop this dream project and the foundation to continue it in the future.

“I regard my time with this project as a great service-learning experience; one that not only changed how I think about the world, but also how I think about myself,” said Zhou. “I am able to identify my strengths and weaknesses better, which helps me further develop my skills before I enter the real world to make my mark for lasting peace.”

* The Davis Projects for Peace initiative, awarded by philanthropist Kathryn W. Davis, provided more than $1 million in funding during the summer of 2011 for projects developed by University students from over 90 campuses. Collectively, these projects touch all regions of the world.