10 years in China for foreign expert

Updated: 2018-11-30

In China, the highest honor that can be granted to a foreigner is called the Friendship Award, and is given for contributions to the nation’s development. Jeffrey Sean Lehman, vice chancellor of New York University Shanghai and former president of Cornell University, won the award in 2011 for his contribution to China’s education.

In 2007, Jeffrey Sean Lehman was invited by his friend Xu Zhihong, then-president of Peking University, to come to China to create a new, experimental law school on Peking University Shenzhen Graduate School. He agreed to move to Shenzhen to become the founding dean of the Peking University School of Transnational Law, widely known as "STL", which began teaching students in 2008. Today, STL is believed by many to be the best law school in China.

In 2012, he was asked to serve as the first American leader at New York University Shanghai, the first Sino-American joint venture university in China. Then he moved from Shenzhen to Shanghai, having worked and lived in China for 10 years.

Over the decade that he has been in China, he has seen a more cosmopolitan spirit in Chinese students. "I think students today are really very knowledgeable about the world outside of China," Lehman said. He found Chinese students today are very willing to try new things and learn in different ways."It's very satisfying to teach these students."

Apart from these changes, Lehman has also seen dramatic changes in China over the past 10 years in terms of technology, transportation, art, museums and the environment. But the changes that have been most impressive to him have had to do with environmental sustainability. "I think it is really interesting to me how today people are talking about economic development in a very holistic way," he said. "People are interested in the higher quality of life that their citizens enjoy. I think that is perhaps the most dramatic change that I have sensed in China."

Lehman said the progress he has experienced during his decade living here has been inspiring. "I think my own expectations for the future of China are very bright."