7,452 miles is a long way to go to look for a friend.
But that’s exactly what president Jianyin Roachell, junior in supply chain management, and his fellow organizers in UT’s chapter of Project Pengyou want to do.
Designed to foster future global leaders and ambassadors, Roachell said Project Pengyou seeks to “build a bridge” between Chinese and American students, all in the hope of uniting two of the world’s economic giants.
“Pengyou is Chinese for friendship, so we are literally called ‘project friendship,'” Roachell said.
Though a local chapter began at UT just last year, Roachell and his peers represent one of many local branches of the national Project Pengyou as a result of the U.S. State Department’s 100,000 Strong in the Americas initiative.
This initiative, Roachell explained, is the direct result of President Obama’s push for a better relationship between China and the United States — two cultures that often don’t have the clearest view of each other.
“To be a global leader of the 21st century, you have to know China,” Roachell said. “If we were to be global leaders of the 18th or 19th century, we’d have to know British leaders, but this century is about China.
“This century is all about power and how the East will gradually get that shift of power from the West.”
Secretary Tristen Callis, sophomore in business management, said this cultural disconnect between the nations is a trend he witnessed firsthand while living in China for four years.
“I know I want go back, so that I can tell people about the culture and about why we needed to keep our focus in China, especially since the two largest economies in the world actually don’t work that closely together,” Callis said.
To prepare for such a shift, Callis and Roachell emphasized that Project Pengyou offers a chance for Chinese and Americans to not only befriend each other, but also amass career connections while earning degrees in their chosen fields.
“They didn’t really have a platform for Chinese study-abroad alumni to network and stay together, pass along information and share knowledge with each other,” Roachell said. “So, this really works to mend that.”
The Pengyou organizers plan to pursue advisors aggressively, citing past benefactors from the UT political science department, the Haslam College of Business, the UT Department of Engineering, the Center for Career Development, the Confucius Institute and Chancellor Jimmy Cheek.
Roachell recalled Chancellor Cheek's visit to the International House last year and said he was inspired by how much enthusiasm the chancellor expressed over the organization’s presence on campus.
“Friendships are our vision, and [Cheek] values that vision fully,” Roachell said.
One of Pengyou Project’s supporters, the Tennessee China Network shares this vision, working to create a more globally aware community as well.
Executive director Elizabeth Rowland, once a policy analyst in China, said she saw a need for a more welcoming platform into the American job market when she returned to her hometown of Knoxville.
“I found that there was a lot of more business here between Tennessee and China than I thought and a lot more than anyone knows about,” Rowland said. “That's part of the problem — there's no awareness of how developed the Tennessee-China relationship actually is. And there's no platform for people for network.”
However, one recent shift in Knoxville's relationship with China, according to Rowland, occurred when the China-owned Cirrus Aircraft expanded services in the McGhee Tyson Airport with a Vision Center that aids in customized passenger experience.
More importantly, Rowland said, the addition of the Vision Center in May opened up approximately 50 jobs for the surrounding Knoxville community.
Rowland explained that the Tennessee China Network is rooted in the same mission of fostering cross-cultural relationships — only differing in its location in the job market, outside the walls of a classroom or study abroad trip.
“There's a lot going on right now, and that's why I decided to create the Tennessee-China Network,” she said. “To help connect the dots, so that people are more aware and so we can connect the dots between people as well.”
For anyone interested in participating in Project Pengyou, interest meetings will be held on Sept. 14 and 17. To apply to be a member, email Jroachell@vols.utk.edu .