Bridging Cultures: A Forward-Looking Conversation with Liyi Ye

Bridging Cultures: A Forward-Looking Conversation with Liyi Ye

Stanford e-China Advisor helps shape U.S.–China collaborative programs.
Liyi Ye, Advisor to Stanford e-China, piloting a plane over Stanford and the Bay Area Liyi Ye, Advisor to Stanford e-China, piloting a plane over Stanford and the Bay Area; courtesy Liyi Ye.

Liyi Ye has been an instrumental force behind the success and growth of Stanford e-China, SPICE’s first program enrolling students in China in virtual courses featuring Stanford professors and Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, launched just before Covid closed schools and flights between the United States and China. Not only has Liyi been an invaluable advisor to Stanford e-China, she has also helped model the value and efficacy of cross-cultural collaboration that we strive to teach in all our SPICE courses. 

Originally from Chongqing, Liyi earned her master’s degree from the Center for East Asian Studies on a full scholarship from Stanford. During her undergraduate years studying finance and mathematics at NYU Stern, she was the advisee of Professor Michael Spence, former Dean of the Stanford Graduate School of Business and 2001 Nobel Laurate in economics. Once back in China, Liyi combined her interest in business and cross-cultural education as she founded an educational company and designed an online writing contest for high school and college students to encourage them to effectively express their independent views and ideas on global issues. 

Affiliated with the Stanford Law School’s China Guiding Cases Project, within two years the company’s writing platform engaged over 50,000 students across China and other parts of the world. Liyi also nurtured an extensive network of schools and educators in both the United States and China, including collaborative partnerships with Stanford Law School, Harvard Business School, and UC Berkeley’s School of Education. As a Stanford alum, her primary focus has been on the development and support of Stanford-related programs.

As the inaugural instructor for Stanford e-China in 2019, when I first met Liyi via Zoom I was quickly impressed by her understanding of cross-cultural dynamics and insights into China’s nuanced and shifting educational landscape, industry, policies, and practices. As we talked about prospects for Stanford e-China over the following months, I also increasingly appreciated her young and savvy energy, entrepreneurial drive, and sense of integrity, humility, humor, and candor. For the past three years, we have been very lucky to have Liyi as our Stanford e-China Advisor based in Shanghai, and relish the dynamic educational opportunities that are a direct result of such a vital relationship.

e-china honorees

During SPICE’s first in-person China Day ceremony in summer 2023, SPICE Director Gary Mukai stated that he only knows a handful of educators like Liyi who bridge U.S.–China relations so enthusiastically and competently and that he has never seen someone of Liyi’s age who is so experienced with cross-cultural communication and collaboration. Photo above: SPICE China Day, Summer 2023: A gathering of Stanford e-China honorees and China Scholars Program students meeting for a ceremony and a design thinking challenge. 

Carey: Liyi, can you share a few aspects of Stanford e-China’s growth that make you feel proud of your involvement?

Liyi: We have recruited Chinese students from over 50 schools in China to participate in Stanford e-China. At the conclusion of each course, students with academic standing in the top 10 percent have been honored and awarded a visit to the Stanford campus to connect in person with instructors and American students from SPICE’s China Scholars Program with whom they have collaborated on Zoom. This past summer, all the students who had to defer their visits due to Covid since 2020 attended the ceremony altogether. This was very exciting to witness!

I’m also proud of new courses we’ve developed, and the educator trainings we’ve opened to teachers in China including one I was able to help facilitate in person in China focused on design thinking. I’m proud of the friendships and networks forged among Stanford e-China students in China and also across the Pacific, and also the fact that we successfully and creatively surmounted so many challenges as we grew the program amid the uncertainties and constraints imposed by the pandemic.

Carey: What interests you most in Stanford e-China’s mission? 

Liyi: I like to think that we are sowing seeds of mutual understanding in young minds from China and the United States. We also recognize that both nations stand uniquely positioned to address the defining, global challenges and opportunities of our time. In my opinion, Stanford e-China’s mission lies in bridging cultural divides through enriched dialogue and creating a foundation for lasting friendships and shared endeavors that begin in youth. Through such connections, we can help sculpt a future defined by common goals and interests and prepare to face together the rapid changes and big challenges of our global community.

Carey: How does Stanford e-China’s mission resonate with you personally?

Liyi: My personal passion resonates deeply with the mission of Stanford e-China, creating a harmonious synergy of education, innovation, and cross-cultural collaboration that drives me forward. For example, we recently launched our new program, U.S.-China Co-Lab on Climate Solutions. We plan to engage 15 students from each country who are intellectually curious to learn from and with each other while exploring climate solutions. This is SPICE’s first, transnational course. It is my hope to develop more collaborative projects, merging the shared experiences and aspirations of vibrant youth from both China and the United States to contribute to our collective future. 

Carey: What inspired you to launch Stanford e-China’s Wit and Pep Initiative (SWAPI)?

Liyi: SWAPI came to life through discussions that recognized the essential role of language in cross-cultural interaction. Despite encountering numerous students from China with impressive academic records, we consistently seek candidates who can express themselves effectively, logically, and confidently—a quality that is both valuable and somewhat rare. SWAPI encourages young students to engage in public speaking and writing opportunities that explore diverse, global topics. Launched in 2022, more than 1,000 students throughout China have joined SWAPI's network.

Stanford e-China WAPI logo

Carey: What do you like to do in your free time?

Liyi: I’m lucky to have a natural curiosity that compels me to explore a lot of interests and subjects. I spent my student years seeking adventures that I could embark on independently, like solo travel, voracious reading, language acquisition, and practice of musical instruments. Since leaving school, I have shifted my focus towards experiences that strengthen connections with friends and families. In particular, my father and I have discovered a shared passion for aerial photography a few years ago. I am a licensed pilot with 10 years of flying experience. My flight records as the pilot in command span more than 30 airports worldwide. Through the lens of our shared interest, we have captured cherished moments and breathtaking landscapes and created a bond that soars above the clouds, so to speak. 

Carey: Have your experiences with Stanford e-China sparked any new passions for you? 

Liyi: Absolutely! I have had the privilege to have earnest conversations with many students and school leaders in both the United States and China. I’ve noticed that students, especially ones at top schools, are subject to overwhelming pressure. It is disconcerting to witness some of our most talented students grappling more with stress, anxiety, and even depression than with the pleasure of learning. 

This has spurred me to explore how we, as educators, can instill resilience, confidence, and a holistic perspective on life and a growth-mindset among youth today. So, I’ve delved into research literature, reached out to experts in developmental psychology, and begun advocating for integrating mental health awareness into our Stanford e-China curriculum as well as within more schools in China. In fact, this spring Stanford e-China is launching a new course, Design Thinking into Action: Teen Wellbeing

My growing interest in psychological development and wellness aligns deeply with my core values. As I advise Stanford e-China, my goal is to nurture young individuals with not only intellectual depth but also mental fortitude. Striking a balance between mental wellness and academic success is, perhaps, the most essential message I hope to share in the next phase of my work with the students, parents, and schools.

Stanford Center at Peking University

Through programs such as Stanford e-China, the U.S.–China Co-Lab on Climate Solutions, and SWAPI, I am looking forward to further strengthening bridges between China and Stanford University.

Stanford e-China is one of SPICE’s comprehensive student programs. SPICE also offers online courses to U.S. high school students on China (China Scholars Program), Japan (Reischauer Scholars Program) and Korea (Sejong Korea Scholars Program), and online courses to Japanese high school students on the United States and U.S.–Japan relations (Stanford e-Japan) and on entrepreneurship (Stanford e-Entrepreneurship Japan).

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