For 29-year-old Joseph Olivier Mendo'o from Cameroon, the best places to understand China and Chinese culture are villages and counties.
Mendo'o, a PhD candidate at Peking University's School of International Studies, has left his footprints in many remote areas of Chinese provinces such as Hebei, Shanxi and Guizhou since he came to the country five years ago.
He and other representatives of foreign participants at the Global Young Leaders Dialogue wrote a letter to President Xi Jinping talking about their trips across China and expressed the hope of serving as a bridge to promote exchanges and dialogue between the country and the rest of the world.
"Happiness must be achieved through hard work," Xi, also general secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, wrote in his reply to 36 representatives of young foreign participants at the Global Young Leaders Dialogue.
"In Africa, we also have similar sayings," Mendo'o said. "During my tours, I saw the local Chinese work really hard and strive for happiness. They want to alleviate poverty and live a better life."
He said it was "a beautiful surprise" receiving a reply from Xi, who hailed them for their efforts to visit various parts of China and deepen their understanding of the country.
More overseas youths are welcome to China for exchanges, Xi said in the letter, expressing his hope that young people at home and abroad will enhance mutual understanding, develop friendship and achieve mutual success, thus contributing to the building of a community with a shared future for mankind.
Mendo'o said his knowledge about China was "shallow" before he set foot in the country, but he learned a lot through hands-on experience.
He used to practice Mandarin every morning with his first group of Chinese friends－the elderly who worked out in parks. By exchanging ideas and getting together with his Chinese classmates, he came to understand more about the lives and pursuits of young Chinese and noticed "a sense of community "among them.
To learn more about China, Mendo'o went to the countryside.
In July, he was among youth representatives from 13 African countries who visited Xingxian county, a formerly impoverished county in Shanxi, to learn about China's poverty-alleviation efforts.
Mendo'o said he learned that the Chinese government has explored many ways to reduce poverty and motivate people to pull themselves out of suffering. The officials and villagers really trust each other, he said.
His research focuses on China-Africa relations and regional integration. He often attends youth forums to share his knowledge and experience in China and exchanges views with scholars from different backgrounds.
For Mendo'o, young people can play an important role in facilitating dialogue between China and African countries and make up for the gap in understanding. "Through various visits, young foreigners can learn about the real China. In the same way, Chinese can learn about the world through us," he said.
Mendo'o said he believes practical exchanges will foster mutual understanding, and youth exchanges should be raised to a new level.
"Only through sincere and down-to-earth exchanges can we face future challenges together," he said.