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Justin Koufopoulos, a 2010 graduate of Connecticut College, has been awarded the Initiating Mutual Understanding through Student Exchange (IMUSE) Beijing Summer Fellowship, a highly competitive program that aims to promote mutual curiosity, respect and understanding between China and the United States. Koufopoulos, one of 10 U.S. fellows selected from approximately 500 applicants, will attend the 10-day conference with Chinese students in Beijing, beginning Aug. 13. The conference includes a broad array of lectures and events where he will have the opportunity to explore US-China relations through such diverse topics as human rights, societal issues, such as love, and the environment. "China is the most important economic partner of the U.S., yet everyday issues threaten to unravel that bond. From currency concerns to human rights debates, this tenuous relationship is constantly challenged, often by voices too polarized in a single direction to be palatable to the other," Koufopoulos said. It is crucial for American students to partake in intimate discussion with Chinese students to promote trust and mutual understanding, he added. Though he looks forward to going to Beijing, it will not be the first time he has made the nearly 7,000 mile trip. During his junior year, Koufopoulos, a psychology major and East Asian studies minor, studied abroad in Beijing. While in Beijing, he frequently engaged in conversation with locals to gain a better understanding of their culture and to practice his Chinese. He recalls one particular conversation he had with a young Chinese solider that shows "the very fiber of what IMUSE means-mutual understanding and respect." "For a moment, a cultural bridge was formed between two of the seemingly most different of people," he said of the conversation. "Although he and I expressed differences over sensitive issues, such as the dusheng zinv zhengce (the Single-Child Policy) and human rights conflicts in Tibet, neither of us felt insulted by the other´s beliefs…We challenged each others´ stereotypes and assumptions over these issues and left as friends."