Rachel Powell-Young, a sophomore at D.C. International School in the Northwest quadrant of the city, has fused her leadership skills and knowledge of Chinese to start a school club that focuses on warmer U.S.–China relations.

Rachel Powell-Young (far left) attended Project Pengyou Leadership Fellowship at Harvard University in September. (Photo courtesy of Rachel Powell-Young)

Over the summer, Powell-Young won the Project Pengyou Leadership Fellowship, which allowed her to spend four days in September with other American and Chinese children during a national summit at Harvard University. “I was very surprised that I got picked to be a fellow out of all the other people and on top of that being the youngest one was also a surprise,” Powell-Young told the AFRO. “Going to Harvard was very exciting and the students there were really fun to hang out with.”

The summit centered on improving relations between the United States and China – “Pengyou” is Mandarin for friend.

Project Pengyou, recruits young Americans and Chinese who have spent time in both countries to act as community leaders and influencers to promote friendly U.S.-China relations and help forge a peaceful, functional and robust future between them. The goal is bridging cultural gaps between the two countries that sometimes lead to tension, mistrust and fear, according to the organization’s website. Powell-Young was one of about 30 fellows this year and said the program taught her a bit about why U.S.-China ties are so crucial.

“U.S and China relations are important because we may have to rely on China because they are a ‘superpower’ country too,” Powell-Young said. “And if we don’t have that connection, then we have nobody to rely on for economic and safety across the world.”

Powell-Young appears to be an ideal envoy for the program. She is almost fluent in Mandarin, the most spoken language in the world, with more than 1 billion speakers. Powell-Young has been studying it since she was a little girl, especially at YuYing Public Charter School, a Chinese immersion elementary school in Northeast D.C.

She has also visited China three times so far. “Each time I went we had homestays so we stayed in some of the local people’s houses,” Powell-Young said. “Each family was really nice and I had a very good time with them. We went to their schools and made friends with the students there. I’m still in contact with some of them. We also taught some of the younger kids English.”

All of the fellows received training to start and lead a Project Pengyou Chapter at their schools to focus on improved U.S.-China relations. The one Powell-Young started held a school event Nov. 16 — as all of the chapters did — that showed people how to use chopsticks and matched Chinese words with their English meanings.

Both of Powell-Young’s parents work for the federal government in the healthcare sector. With her background in diplomacy and Mandarin, though, a career at the U.S. Department of State isn’t something she’s considering at this time. “When I grow up I want to do something in the financial field,” Powell-Young said. “I think knowing how to speak Mandarin could really help me in the business world.”