Insight Into China: Schwarzman Scholars deepen their knowledge and understanding of China among a global cohort

Dec. 19, 2023

Story was originally published in the 2023 edition of Princeton University’s international magazine, Princeton International.

As China’s economy and global presence continues to grow and evolve amid escalating geopolitical tensions, there is an increasing need for future world leaders to better understand the country and its interactions with the rest of the world. In response to this need, the Schwarzman Scholars program, founded in 2016 by Stephen A. Schwarzman, CEO of Blackstone, selects students from around the world and supports them in a yearlong program to pursue a master’s degree in global affairs at Tsinghua University in Beijing. Scholars gain a unique insight into China through coursework, language training, cultural immersion and networking opportunities. The program also foregrounds leadership skills and making positive impacts in the world.

The Schwarzman Scholars Class of 2024 includes four Princeton graduates from the Class of 2023. They join a cohort of 151 scholars representing 36 countries and 121 universities. As one of this year’s scholars, physics major Elisabeth Rülke ’23 looks forward to learning more about China through the lens of technology. “I want to learn more about Chinese culture and to apply it to understanding the geopolitical landscape in the technology and innovation ecosystem to unlock ways in which disruptive technology can create sustainable and positive impacts in the future,” she said.

For politics major Benjamin Bograd ’23, the opportunity to immerse himself in China includes a personal connection. “Being biracial and half Chinese, I have always been fascinated by China,” he said. “I’ve taken Mandarin classes throughout the majority of high school and college, but there is no better way to understand a country than by going and living there.”

Justin Curl and friends during Schwarzman Scholars graduation

Justin Curl ’22, center, with members of the Schwarzman Scholars Class of 2023 during graduation at Tsinghua University

Justin Curl ’22, a graduate of the Schwarzman Scholars Class of 2023, shared how the program deepened his understanding of China especially outside the classroom through “Deep Dives,” a unique program component that gives scholars the opportunity to participate in a weeklong field trip to explore a facet of Chinese society in-depth. For Curl, this included the opportunity to shadow the Xi’an municipal government. “We got to meet the mayor and were paired with different bureaus within the Xi’an government where we then shadowed officials for a week,” he said. “And I think that is something that I would never have access to, especially as a foreigner, in any other capacity.”

The personal connections that Curl made and the interactions outside of the classroom also shaped how he now views intercultural relationships, as well as reaffirmed his belief in the importance of fostering these connections.

“China is a very network-based country,” Curl explained. “I think what that taught me about global relationships is that a lot of it is personal, and you can have entirely different conversations with people if you have some shared understanding.”

The Schwarzman Scholars program not only provides its participants with the opportunity to better understand China and its global impact, but also promotes the importance of fostering worldwide connections and building trust between different countries and cultures. As a Schwarzman Scholars adviser, Associate Professor of Politics and International Affairs Rory Truex noted: “Given the deterioration of U.S.-China relations, the Schwarzman Scholarship is one of the only ways for U.S.- based students to get meaningful educational and cultural experiences in China. It has become an invaluable program for training the next generation of China experts.”

“I am excited to be surrounded by a community of students from 36 different countries,” said Bograd. “At Princeton I learned just as much from my peers as from professors—I expect the same will be true through Schwarzman.”

Rülke added, “I grew up in Europe and went to college in the States, but I know that the world is so much larger than the cultures I knew growing up, and I hope to understand and interact with the world as a more global citizen through this program.