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Confucius Institute comes to Colorado

By Chen Jia in Fort Collins, Colorado | China Daily | Updated: 2013-04-15 10:41

Residents of the Rocky Mountain city of Fort Collins, Colorado, have gained an important resource for studying Chinese with the opening last week of a Confucius Institute at Colorado State University.

The inauguration on Friday of the newest US outlet for China's main initiative to spread Chinese language and culture abroad drew dignitaries from Confucius Institute headquarters in Beijing and CSU's institute partner, Hunan University.

An official with Hanban, the organization that runs Confucius Institutes on behalf of China's Education Ministry, said in an interview that interest is high among colleges and universities seeking to host an institute on campus.

"Competition is intense, and the approval numbers never meet the high demand," said Li Mingsi, who works for Hanban's development and planning division in Beijing.

Worldwide, there are now about 420 Confucius Institutes, including 92 in the United States. In addition to Colorado State, last week saw the formal dedication of three institutes on US campuses - at Columbia University, George Washington University and Georgia's Wesleyan College.

"About 260 universities around the world have submitted applications but today remain on our waiting list," Li said during the ceremony in Fort Collins. Between 60 and 90 US campuses are among the applicants, she said.

"A tip for winning the competition is showing your specialty," said James Cooney, vice provost for international programs at Colorado State. He said the university, at the base of one of the Rockies' major foothill chains, has a reputation in water-resources management and environmental protection, which were of interest to its Chinese partner in the institute.

The Fort Collins school has established partnerships with several Chinese universities in recent year, seeking educational and research opportunities in China for students and faculty.

In October 2008, Colorado Governor Bill Ritter made a trade trip to China with university president Tony Frank and other CSU administrators. During the visit, Colorado State signed an agreement with East China Normal University that led to the opening of a CSU office on the Shanghai school's campus. The two universities also established the Joint Research Institute for New Energy and the Environment.

Colorado State's other institutional partners in China are Hunan University, Northwest Agriculture and Forestry University, China Agricultural University and Beijing Normal University.

Hunan role as the China-based partner for the new Confucius Institute was set in an agreement reached in March 2012. Once approved, it usually takes several months' preparation before an institute is open to the public, according to Hanban's Li.

"There are so many countries offering cultural programs dedicated to the promotion of their language and culture, such as the Goethe Institute and Instituto Cervantes," Cooney said, referring to initiatives of the governments of Germany and Spain, respectively. "But I think the Confucius Institute is the most popular choice and best program performer today."

"It is good news for me because the teachers and volunteers of the new institute might give me a hand in the future," said Chuchang Chiu, a special instructor who currently is the only teacher of Chinese at Colorado State.

"They focus on the community, and I focus on the university classroom. We could cooperate and promote the spread of Chinese language and culture in Colorado," she said.

Like their peers elsewhere, Colorado State students mainly see knowledge of Chinese as a path to practical goals such as doing business in China or landing a teaching job in the country, said Chiu, a Taiwan native who has taught at the university for 10 years.

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