Nearly 4,000 Chinese volunteers have been sent abroad to teach Mandarin over the past four years, according to Hanban, the office of Chinese Language Council International.
The number of teachers last year rocketed to 1,426 - a significant jump from 232 in 2004, when the idea of sending Chinese-teaching volunteers overseas was launched. Today, they work in 42 counties.
The three countries with the highest number of volunteers in 2007 were Thailand (650), the Philippines (177) and the United States (156).
Last month, Hanban delegations were sent to five Asian countries, such as Nepal and Mongolia, to convey festival greetings to the volunteers and investigate their working environments.
The current number of students and professionals studying Mandarin is 40 million worldwide. About 100 nations have set up Mandarin courses through various teaching institutions, according to Hanban.
"The international demand for Chinese teachers is on the rise, and in particular, volunteers are highly sought after," says Ma Jianfei, deputy director-general of Hanban.
He revealed the number of volunteers is five times that of teachers designated by the Chinese government to work overseas.
In general, volunteers are selected from provincial universities or institutions directly under the Ministry of Education. Candidates should receive a two-month intensive training session, covering teaching skills, the language of the target country, paper-cutting and even tai chi. They must pass all relevant examinations, including psychological testing, before going abroad.
Most of the volunteers are newly graduated women from normal schools. Their terms last from six months to two years, and they receive a monthly subsidy of $800.
Ma praises the volunteers' spirit of dedication.
"Most of them work in impoverished countries, experiencing hardships people at home have hardly imagined. Some even face threats to their lives," he says. "For those who teach in developed countries, loneliness is the biggest obstacle they have to overcome."
Ma says Hanban has set up beneficial policies for volunteers to help them find jobs after they return to China. Some 2,000 Chinese volunteers are scheduled to be sent overseas this year.
(China Daily 02/26/2008 page18)