The episode examines the relationship between San Francisco and Shanghai and the integral role the Conservatory played with its first student exchange program.
By Mark Taylor
Music is a barrier-breaking universal language, and today SFCM students come from all over the world to study music, but it wasn’t always that way.
It started with just five students back in 1981, the year after San Francisco and Shanghai's Sister City agreement was signed. The quintet of young musicians from the Shanghai Conservatory came to study at SFCM as part of the first formal exchange program for the institution, laying the groundwork for decades of students to come. Most recently SFCM’s global community represented 34 countries and 184 international students.
Two of those first students, Chunming Mo and Weigang Li, are featured in the first episode of Sister Cities, a new series presented by USA Today and China Intercontinental Communication Center (CICC) that provides an inside look at the culture and history of iconic cities and local communities in the United States and China. Premiering on July 18 the series promises to explore both countries’ cultures by comparing and contrasting cities, unveiling cultural, artistic, and economic bonds.
The show was filmed in part at SFCM's Ann Getty Center for Education and Ute and William K. Bowes, Jr. Center for Performing Arts. In it, Mo and Li—who are now professional musicians—reflect on their time living, learning, and performing in San Francisco and react to the emotional pull of hearing their archived recordings from their time on campus.
"I think learning a second culture other than your own is so crucial," said Li. "Once you know there's a second culture that's different from you, you can easily imagine there's a third and a fourth one, and that makes you a different person."
SFCM President David Stull is also interviewed in the series, commenting on the start of the exchange student program and what it meant for the future, “This was a very important moment between the two cities, culture was seen as something the city was investing in,” Stull said.
An investment that continues to pay dividends today.
Watch Sister Cities, on USA Today's YouTube channel below or learn more about studying at SFCM as an international student.