Members of AYC’s 2015-16 wave of Educational Ambassadors gathered at the AYC Sendoff Reception for an evening of inspiration, networking, and fun. The event, which took place at the Ameson Foundation’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., was well attended. Guests included AYC ambassadors, alumni, family, and community members, as well as distinguished speakers from a variety of fields related to cultural exchange and international relations.

According to the Ameson Foundation’s Washington, D.C. office Director, Stephen Smith, the stated goal of Ameson Year in China is for Educational Ambassadors to become true leaders and global citizens by making a positive contribution toward cultural exchange with China. AYC’s focus on improving Sino-American relations was emphasized throughout the evening, but a more personal message was also revealed to the ambassadors in attendance.

A clear theme emerged from several speeches, an informative panel discussion, and many lively dinner conversations: The AYC experience is life changing.

Attendees also listened attentively as Alan Bersin, long-time supporter and former Ameson board member, urged ambassadors to make the most of their year in China. Bersin, who served as Secretary of Education in California under governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, told ambassadors, “you could not be going to a more exciting place at a more interesting time.”

The evening’s theme resurfaced when Bersin highlighted the “significant personal growth” that comes from facing cultural differences. “There will be times when you engage with the people of China and you realize that you’re having an experience that you will never forget, that will leave an impact on you and affect the person you become.”

Mike Violette, President of Washington Laboratories and President & Chair of the Maryland-China Business Council said to reception attendees, “I think a majority of you will have a lifetime interest in China, and some percentage of you will stay for longer than you can imagine. But, no matter your arc, wherever your travels, whatever your experience is, you will be changed by this next year.”

The sendoff festivities reveal growing support for the advancement of cultural exchange between the U.S. and China, the cornerstone of Ameson’s mission. For incoming Educational Ambassadors, the festivities also mark the opening of a new, pivotal chapter in life. Now is the time for envisioning a new year of sharing and discovery in China. Perhaps Alan Bersin put it best with his closing words of wisdom: “be proud of where you come from, but open to where you are.”