Inaugural Project Pengyou Chapter Reunion and Leadership Retreat

Group photo of Team Pengyou and the present Chapter leaders on day 1.

It’s hard to believe that it has only been one year since we launched the Project Pengyou Leadership Fellows Program! The smiling faces above represent many of the first two cohorts of Fellows and their chapter leadership teams who gathered at the University of Maryland (UMD) on June 20th and 21st to share what they had learned throughout the year.

A silly group shot at the Chapter Reunion dinner!
A silly group shot at the Chapter Reunion dinner!

Reunited and It Feels So Good

17 Project Pengyou Chapters traveled from across the country to attend the Chapter Reunion and Retreat. After many months of hard work at their schools, powwows with HQ and many US-China related events under their belt, the chapter builders convened at UMD; many meeting each other for the first time.

These chapters were launched after two initial trainings at Harvard in 2014. the Leadership Fellows were tasked with building a Project Pengyou chapter at their home university. They were armed with theories of community organizing, but it was up to them to put those theories into practice. In order for their chapter to become a community hub facilitating exchange between Americans and Chinese and promoting real, meaningful cultural engagement, these young leaders often had to pioneer into uncertain territory. We were not just asking them to hold events and promote surface level-exchange, but to delve deep and discover what was truly needed in their community to foster positive exchange.

UW-Madison Leadership member, Chi Hyunh
UW-Madison Leadership member, Chi Hyunh presents with her chapter

Delving Deep – A Day of Chapter Sharing

Last month at the first annual Chapter Reunion and Leadership Retreat, we asked each chapter to prepare a short presentation about their accomplishments, challenges and strategies over the past year. Although we had consistently communicated with the chapters individually and on National calls, this was the first time that the chapter leaders were hearing from their peers face to face, with real life examples of building a chapter.

“I really enjoyed hearing the chapters share more in-depth; hearing about specific, real examples of problems helps others evaluate their own problems.” – Will Jockers, SUNY Geneseo

Many of the chapter leaders were inspired by the collective accomplishments of their peers despite diverse and substantial challenges. They expressed that this weekend helped them feel closer to the national network and that they were a part of something larger than themselves.  Holly Chang, Chief Pengyou, remarked:

“Right from the start when everyone started presenting, I was really impressed with all that you have been able to accomplish in one year.”

From volunteering at elderly homes, to creating their own course on cross-cultural dialogue, our Chapters have a lot to be proud of this year.

That Pengyou Feeling

It didn’t take long for new friends to feel like old friends. After winding down from a day of intense discussion, strategizing, and honing leadership and community building skills, the group broke out into a spontaneous dance party! Everyone was laughing and talking like old friends by the end of the day. See the full list of attendees here:

This years winners of the Pengyou Cup!
This year’s winners of the Pengyou Cup!

The banquet was even more lively! After piling into cars and ubers and trekking out into a torrential downpour, we arrived at the banquet to feast on Chinese food and celebrate this year’s accomplishments with a chapter award ceremony.

This year, the following chapters received awards for their chapter building efforts:

Jianyin Roachell and Tristen Callis pitch their chapter (UTK)

Chapter Pitches and Mentorship Session

On the second day of the Chapter Reunion and Retreat, several of the chapters had a shot at pitching their chapter strategy to a panel of expert mentors, including Madelyn Ross, the director of SAIS-China, Michael Lin, former national president and executive director of the Organization of Chinese Americans, and our very own Chief Pengyou, Holly Chang. They presented their chapter strategy, positioning on campus, and plans for the upcoming year. We had made this request of the chapters on short notice, so the pressure was on, but they rose to the challenge beautifully!

Michael, Madelyn, and Holly all agreed that the efforts the chapters have put forth, the achievements they have attained throughout the year and the way they convey their passion for bridge-building is both impressive and inspiring.

Separately, the Chapters may be a handful of students or a small group in their community, struggling to make a difference, but as UW-Madison chapter founder Tammy Tian puts it, “we are shaking the ground in little ways across the nation!”

After so much hard work, the chapter leaders could finally kick back and enjoy the rest of the afternoon filled with fascinating speakers Project Pengyou had co-organized with Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies – China (SAIS – China) and the Committee of 100. The event brought together over 130 guests to the SAIS campus for a speaker forum featuring expert U.S.-China bridge-builders and their experiences (Read more about the speaker event here).

We were thrilled to see so many of the Chapter leaders in D.C., hear about the successes and learn from the challenges of this year. We are looking forward to watching the Chapters continue to grow next year!

Silly Pengyous :P
Silly Pengyous 😛

Stay tuned for news about our next Leadership Fellows Training Summit and check out the photo highlights from the Chapter Reunion and Retreat in our gallery!