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Mr Ayto (17), who is studying for a conjoint LLB/BA degree at the University of Otago, has received a Robertson Scholarship to study at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.
The scholarship is funded by New York philanthropist Julian Robertson.
Mr Ayto, who was born in Wellington and attended Wellington College, has been studying the Chinese language for the past five years, and has won a national Chinese speaking competition.
He was yesterday ''excited'' about his scholarship success, which was yet to fully sink in.
''I'm still in a state of disbelief. I have to take it bit by bit and break it down.''
He would complete his first semester studies at Otago by mid-year.
And, in August, he would begin four years of study at Duke University, most likely for a BA in philosophy, politics, economics, Asian studies and art.
For the first time last year, China became New Zealand's leading export destination.
Mr Ayto said that, given the importance of the trading links between the two nations, there was also a need to further deepen mutual understanding through more cultural links.
Asia was facing ''myriad challenges'' , including poverty and uneven development among its population, and he wanted to explore how his passions for art, culture and technology could be used to achieve meaningful change in the region.
Mr Ayto represented New Zealand at the Global Positioning Leaders' Forum in China last year.
He was interested in the way not-for-profit social enterprise initiatives, including those involving arts and crafts, could support and promote culture and improve family incomes and community welfare.
He last year visited an arts-related Beijing-based social enterprise, the Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art.
It is understood he is one of four people with Dunedin connections to have gained a Robertson Scholarship, the others being former John McGlashan College pupil Oliver Wilson (2008), and Otago University student Tom Prebble, previously of Auckland, and Jamie Band, the latter of John McGlashan, both in 2012.