Grinnell College Student Attends the Project Pengyou Leadership Summit at Harvard

December 15, 2017

Widely differing customs, language and culture have created atmospheres for xenophobia to be a part of both American and Chinese society. The Project Pengyou Leadership Summit is helping to end this by mobilizing Americans and Chinese who have lived in both countries to serve as liaisons in fostering U.S.-China relations. This year, the Wilson Center for Innovation & Leadership helped Ruilin Yu ’20, a biological chemistry major, attend the annual Project Pengyou Leadership Summit at Harvard University in Boston, from September 15–18.

The nationally recognized summit is part of a nascent national movement to boost the number and diversity of Americans studying abroad in China. More broadly, Project Pengyou aims to empower young leaders and provide them with the tools and expertise necessary to be successful ambassadors in bringing about more effective and peaceful relations between the United States and China. 

Lessons from the Summit

Through a variety of leadership training exercises, the summit allowed Yu to explore how leadership is exercised. One such exercise involved examining methods on how to build the perfect leadership team, which should have a “snowflake structure.” “The snowflake structure refers to the state of ideal communication between leaders, with each leader being responsible for a small group of members with a specific task,” Yu explains.

Through assessing the effectiveness of different ways of delegating and sharing responsibilities as well as evaluating their associated responses, Yu could determine the best possible model of structuring a team. “Because there are many cultural differences between American and the Chinese society, we require a unique norm that everyone has agreed upon to carry out meetings and activities. Ultimately, this knowledge about building a leadership team will help me lead my chapter at Grinnell better,” Yu writes.

Further, Yu recalibrated methods of leadership development and management, such as those from the snowflake structure exercise, to the context of Grinnell. “While listening to lectures, I reflected on the unique campus environment of Grinnell and evaluated measures that lecturers suggested. Grinnell has a liberal arts environment that is very open-minded, diverse, and humanizing, which is a perfect place for leading a team of cross-cultural bridge builders” Yu explains.

What’s Next?

The summit inspired Yu to discover more similarities between herself and members at Grinnell’s Project Pengyou Chapter, specifically, similarities that relate to shared feelings about U.S.-China relations or similar life experiences. Ultimately, these similarities serve as the vehicles for promoting collaboration, inclusion and mutual understanding between Grinnell’s Project Pengyou Chapter and the wider community.

“The leadership summit has taught me that leaders do not lead because they are different from the others, but because they are the same and that they represent the people they lead,” Yu concludes. “To me, more friendly U.S.-China relations is like a bridge that require people from both nationalities to build together. This takes time and effort, but once the bridge is built people will be able to access another world of ideas, experiences, resources and opportunities. Members at Project Pengyou community are all looking forward and contributing to that bridge, and I believe that my responsibility is to let more people see the advantages of such a bridge and ultimately join our movement.”

The Wilson Center seeks to inspire and prepare students as innovators and leaders through courses, personal development, and events that emphasize experiential learning.