by Xinhua writers Wu Danni, Sui Lixi, Zhang Jiye
ASTANA, Sept. 14 (Xinhua) -- "I thought the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) was strategic for Kazakhstan and for the region when I heard about it in 2013," said Loretta O'Donnell, vice provost for academic affairs at Nazarbayev University in Kazakhstan.
"That was very exciting. It just reminded me of the power of Central Asia in a narrative about growth," said O'Donnell in a recent interview with Xinhua after a seminar marking the 10th anniversary of the initiative, held at Nazarbayev University in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan.
In September 2013, it was at this university that Chinese President Xi Jinping proposed building the Silk Road Economic Belt for the first time in a speech.
A few weeks before the speech, O'Donnell, an Australian who had been working at the University of New South Wales for many years, arrived in Kazakhstan and started her new career at Nazarbayev University.
Shortly after taking the job, the school told her that the Chinese president would deliver a vital policy speech on campus.
"Not many undergraduate students have the chance to speak to world leaders in that kind of setting; that was very profound," O'Donnell told Xinhua, recalling that Xi offered to take questions from the audience, including students from the university.
"Our engineering students ask questions directly on environmental and development issues, and he answered them in a very comprehensive way," said O'Donnell.
She said that the BRI embodies global and long-term thinking, which has helped Kazakhstan transition from being "landlocked" to being "land-linked."
Using "possibility" as a keyword to describe the BRI, she said the initiative represents an opportunity for deep dialogue and an open-minded approach to understanding Central Asia that can serve as a center of logistics, connections and cultural exchange.
In the past few years, O'Donnell has promoted the establishment of the Heritage Alliance of the New Silk Road in cooperation with universities in Britain, China's Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and the Chinese mainland and has held several seminars on heritage protection along the Silk Road.
She expressed complete confidence in the BRI's potential to facilitate connectivity for the Central Asian region with the rest of the world.
"We are coming together because of this initiative, and we are working to propel Central Asia towards the world in a more modern and innovative manner," she added. ■