About Us


PiA fosters mutual appreciation and cross-cultural understanding between the United States and Asia through immersive work fellowships in host organizations and communities. 

Founded in 1898, Princeton in Asia (PiA) has been building bridges between the U.S. and Asia for over a century. PiA’s original mission is as meaningful and urgent today as it was 124 years ago. The need to educate Americans about Asia and to help Asian communities better understand the United States has never been higher.

In 2019, PiA sponsored over 150 fellowships and internships in 20 countries and regions and is the oldest and largest organization of its kind, unique in its scope, size, century-long expertise and emphasis on service. The essence of PiA is to provide transformative, service-oriented experiences for bright, talented graduates and to serve the needs of Asia as determined by our host institutions and Asian partners. PiA arranges fellowships and internships with Asian host organizations that contribute to important global issues at the local level: education, public health, environmental sustainability, access to information/media, economic development and social justice. Fellowships are the means of fostering person-to-person diplomacy, enhancing mutual understanding, contributing to communities with unmet needs and providing transformative experiences for fellows and host communities.

PiA is supported by a notably engaged Board of Trustees, nearly eighty host organizations in Asia and an active base of alumni and friends numbering over 4,000. PiA is an independent, not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization affiliated with Princeton University. With a staff of seven professionals and an annual operating budget of $1,000,000, PiA is one of the lowest-cost, highest-impact platforms for linking cultures and endowing generations of future leaders with transformative experiences and knowledge of Asia.


Learn more about PiA's 124-year history:

PiA At A Glance

  • Founded in 1898
  • 122 years of committed to service in Asia
  • 150 Fellows and interns in Asia in 2019
  • 45 cities in 20 countries and regions from Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan to Dili, Timor-Leste
  • 80 partner institutions
  • More than 4,000 alumni & friends



Founding Fathers

In 1898, a group of committed Princeton undergraduates voted to raise $500 to support the YMCA in Tientsin (now Tianjin), China. That year, Robert "Pop" Gailey *96 boarded a steamer for China and thus started the program we now know as PiA. As Gailey's work expanded, he sought the assistance of other young Princetonians. Eight years later, Dwight Edwards *94 joined Gailey in Tientsin and together they established the first YMCA in Peking. Over the next thirty years, more Princetonians would follow their lead, working on famine relief programs, organizing the country's first athletic associations, opening the Peking School of Commerce and Finance, and most importantly, establishing the Princeton School of Public Affairs at Yenching University in 1923 (after which the pre-PiA "Princeton in Peking" moniker was switched to the "Princeton-Yenching Foundation"). Some Princetonians like John Stewart Burgess '05, Sidney Gamble '12, Lennig Sweet '16, and Richard Ritter '17 spent considerably long periods in China, while others were "short term" men, spending one or two years working on projects. What they all had in common was their desire"to promote goodwill and understanding...and to facilitate in every way the free interchange of the best ideals in the civilizations of both the East and the West."

"What China learns from the outside world is acquired largely through [the YMCA] men, and the relationship which our country will bear to others is being directly affected by the relationship which these students bear to the men of the Princeton Center in Peking."
-Lou Tseng-Tsiang, Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs, 1920s


Princeton-Yenching Faces the Music

In 1949, after more than fifty years of sending Princetonians to work in social service and educational programs, the Princeton-Yenching Foundation was forced to cease work in China. Rather than disband, the foundation turned its eye to other parts of Asia. In 1952, Princeton-Yenching began its work with Tungai University in Taiwan and Yonsei and Chosun Universities in Korea. Given the unstable situation in both countries, recent Princeton graduates were not sent abroad -- instead, funding for student scholarships, faculty salaries, and libraries was provided. In addition, Princeton-Yenching continued its connection with China by awarding scholarships to several students from Hong Kong to attend Princeton University. With this broadened focus, our name was changed to "Princeton-in-Asia" in 1955.

The Board of Trustees, many of whom had served with the organization in China, recognized the personal value of Princetonians serving abroad. In the summer of 1958, Hamilton Meserve '59 and Jackson Huddleston Jr. '60 were the first recipients of the Osawa Fellowship to teach English in Japan. The next year, William Volckhausen '59 boarded the plane to teach at Tunghai University in Taiwan. Once again, PiA had a true physical presence in Asia.


Expansion: Keeping up with the Asian Dynamic (1960-1985) 

The 1960s and 1970s saw the continuing growth of the program. John McCobb Jr. '61 became the first PiA Fellow at Chung Chi University in Hong Kong, and John O. Haley '64 pioneered our program at International Christian University in Tokyo. Other Princetonians followed suit, and by 1969, PiA had sent upwards of thirty fellows to Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan. PiA also continued to support the training of Asian nationals it had begun in the 50s, and awarded scholarships for government officials from Singapore to attend Princeton's School of Public and International Affairs.

In 1970, PiA hired its first full-time Executive Director, Robert C. Atmore. Atmore brought a vision to the program and is largely responsible for instituting the structure of the program that remains today. Atmore saw Asia as a wonderful learning ground for young Americans, and thus expanded the program to include graduates from other universities. During his tenure from 1970 to 1985, the program moved into South East and South Asia and grew from a handful of Princetonians to more than sixty interns each year. No international opportunity escaped Atmore's keen eye, even if it meant stretching the definition of "Asia." For a ten year period beginning in the mid-seventies, PiA sent interns to teach at universities and high schools in Egypt, Lebanon, Iran, Afghanistan, Turkey, Yemen, and Greece.

As Asia changed, so did PiA. With the development of East Asia came the addition of positions which tapped into the growing international business community. Summer internships at companies such as Matsushita Electric Industrial Company and Nikko Securities in Japan offered students a first-hand look at Japanese styles of management. Aspiring journalists found PiA positions with such publications as The Japan times and Time-Life in Hong Kong.


The Bridges Become Networks: PiA Today

Princeton in Asia today looks very different from the program that began in China over a century ago. Over 150 graduates of Princeton and other universities are spread out across 20 Asian countries and regions, and contact with many fellows is just an e-mail message or phone call away. However, there is a striking continuity to be found if you wade through the dusty boxes of letters and reports piled and filed in the PiA home office in the Louis A. Simpson International Building. The majority of fellows continue to serve in educational institutions, finding it the perfect environment for cultural exchange. And most strikingly, the letters from the field still sound a great deal like the one written by Donald W. Caruthers '15: "I shall always be extremely grateful for what my experience in China meant. There is a Chinese proverb, 'I live in a small house but my windows look out upon a very large world.' My four years there had much to do with the widening of my own personal world horizons.'"


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