Penn Connects with China Song by Song (Video)

April 7, 2015

Some songs just get stuck in our heads, but a song written by Danny DiIulio, C'15, for some homesick college students touched hearts and is helping to build lasting relationships between Penn and China.  

Last summer, a group of 46 students from China were at Penn for a four-week program in governance, leadership, and society. Co-sponsored by Penn Arts and Sciences’ Robert A. Fox Leadership Program and Fels Institute of Government with support from the College of Liberal and Professional Studies, the course was the pilot initiative of Fox Leadership International (FLI). The students were from universities in the Jiangsu Province in eastern China, through a bureau called Jiangsu Education Services for International Exchange, or JESIE.

John DiIulio, Frederic Fox Leadership Professor of Politics, Religion, and Civil Society and director of the Fox Leadership Program, said, “Our mission with FLI is to add a global dimension to all of Fox Leadership’s programs. Penn students today will be international students no matter what they do or where they live. FLI will prepare them to be leaders who are comfortable in the world.”

DiIulio’s son Danny was a teaching assistant and resident advisor for the JESIE program last summer. The students enjoyed the program, he said, but “Many had never been out of their province before, so there was some homesickness.” Danny, a Mandarin Chinese major, wrote and played a concert of songs in Chinese for the students. “It was a gift to them, to show that I understood how they were feeling.”

Flora Wang, G’15, LPS’15, another teaching assistant for the summer program, said, “Though the students knew Danny speaks Chinese, they never expected that he’d sing in Chinese, especially songs he’d written. They were truly amazed and totally blown away.”

To follow up, Danny DiIulio made a video of his song “In China” with Wang and other Chinese students at Penn. He posted the video on Wechat, a social media site, in February. Within weeks it was getting media notice in China, and helped draw attention to the March opening of the Penn Wharton China Center (PWCC), a resource and gathering place to enhance learning and research opportunities for Penn faculty, students, alumni, and friends in China. The Chinese paper People’s Daily, with a circulation of more than one billion, ran a story about the video, PWCC, and the FLI delegation in China.

More important than the publicity to the FLI team, though, was that almost all the 2014 JESIE students came out for events in China. “We told them we’d come to see them, and we did,” said John DiIulio. “And Danny’s video is a big reason they came to see us.”

John DiIulio and Penn Arts and Sciences Vice Dean for Professional and Liberal Education Nora Lewis were also building organizational links between FLI in China, called China-U.S. Partnerships for Educational Advancement and Cultural Exchange (PEACE), and institutions in China. In Beijing, both participated in roundtables with Chinese university leaders to discuss issues in higher education, panel discussions with senior Chinese business leaders, and research talks. Lewis also met with officials and visited universities in Jiangsu province to discuss extending JESIE cultural exchange programs. She and John DiIulio visited and spoke at the University of Dayton China Institute in Suzhou, where FLI is already creating ties.

All involved with FLI are clear that building relationships that are personal as well as professional is their mission. “We aspire to carry Fox Leadership Program’s commitment to leadership, learning, and service over to FLI by personalizing and internalizing educational and cultural exchange experiences,” said Wang, a Fels Institute of Government student who will become the assistant director of FLI this summer. “Why do we emphasize a person-to-person mode? It is because we don’t want educational and cultural exchange to end as a program ends. And an aggregate of these positive person-to-person relationships is the foundation of the future of China-U.S. relations.”

Danny DiIulio finished his coursework at Penn a year early and is now spending the time he saved in China, studying Mandarin and contributing to the development of Penn’s partnerships. “I’m really excited to help Penn serve intercultural exchange through the video,” he said. “The students loved the course and loved Penn, but something really clicked with the concert. It made them feel that they really wanted to come back, and it showed me the power of music in the cause of international exchange.”

The Penn students that appear in the video for "In China" are Danny DiIulio, C’15, and Fels Institute of Government students Flora Wang, G’15, LPS’15; Cheng Yao, G’16, LPS’16; Kaiwen Guo, G’16, LPS’16; and Shujia Gu, G’16, LPS’16.