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A tour of Confucius Institutes in the Americas

Updated: 2014-05-30 12:29
By Cindy Liu in Los Angeles, May Zhou in Nashville, Tennessee, Zhang Fan in Santiago, Chile, and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Cai Chunying in Washington, and Liu Chang in Chicago ( China Daily USA)

A tour of Confucius Institutes in the Americas

(1) David Coleman, president of US College Board, confers Confucius Classroom plaques to schools during the 2014 National Chinese Language Conference in Los Angeles. (2) Director general of Hanban Xu Lin (right) receives an honorary doctorate from Middle Tennessee State University President Sydney McPhee. (3) In Santiago, Chile, a local performer celebrates the launching of the Confucius Institute Latin America Regional Center with Chinese Ambassador to Chile Yang Wanming (left); Xu Lin (center); and former president of Chile Eduardo Frei looking on. (4) Qiao Jianzhen, the Chinese director of the Confucius Institute at the Pontifi cal Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, introduces the institute's history and development. (5) Students of the Confucius Classroom at Washington's Yu Ying Public Charter School, affliated with the Confucius Institute at the University of Maryland, sing a song in Chinese. (6) Teachers at Confucius Institute in Chicago give orientation to high school students in the Chicago public school system, who were selected to participate in an upcoming study program in Hangzhou, China.

Ten years of establishing Confucius Institutes and Confucius Classrooms worldwide were marked earlier this month when a delegation from the Office of Chinese Language Council International in Beijing - more commonly known for its Chinese abbreviation Hanban and which grants Confucius Institutes - toured institutes and classrooms in the Americas. China Daily reporters followed the delegation to each stop to gain an understanding of how the Confucius Institutes have a& ected lives and contributed to the overall Americas-China interaction.

Confucius, the ancient Chinese sage who lived more than 2,500 years ago, is hailed for his intellectual charm of attracting 3,000 followers throughout his life.

It only took Confucius Institute, an initiative of teaching Chinese language and culture in countries beyond China, 10 years to reach tens of thousands of students in more than 120 countries and regions.

During its tour, the Hanban delegation launched five new Confucius Institutes and 15 Confucius Classrooms in the US, unveiled a Confucius Institute Center in Latin America, and visited a few established Confucius Institutes and their affiliated Confucius Classrooms along the way. The trip covered six cities in 10 days, typical of the hundreds of tours Hanban has led in the last 10 years.

Los Angeles

Los Angeles was the site for the 2014 National Chinese Language Conference (NCLC), the largest gathering of K-16 teachers in the US who are teaching and conducting research in Chinese language, co-organized by the Asia Society and US College Board, both partners of Hanban.

The 2014 NCLC, held from May 8 to 10, marked the first time the College Board has collaborated with Hanban to establish CIs and CCs within College Board's network.

Announcing five new CIs and 15 new CCs, David Coleman, president of the College Board, said, "Hanban is just like the sun. It lights the path to develop Chinese teaching in the US. The College Board is the moon. I am so honored to re8 ect the light that we've gotten from Hanban."

Susan Pertel Jain, executive director of the Confucius Institute at UCLA and a professor of art, has allowed her own passion in Chinese art to be absorbed into the institute's programs.

"People need to be inspired. Chinese art often is the greatest inspiration for American people to learn Chinese," said Jain who holds degrees in Chinese language and Asian theater.

She emphasized that her institute is not only a platform for learning Chinese language but a platform for professionals in art to "polish their professions in communicating with China by understanding Chinese."

UCLA's CI is an example of how the Confucius Institute differs from other leading cultural advocacy institutions in the West, such as Germany's Goethe Institute, the UK's British Council and France's Alliance Francaise.

Although Hanban provides launching funds, language teachers, and cultural materials, it is the hosting institutions that apply for the establishment of CI and develop their programs based on their own goals and resources, giving each CI a distinct approach.

Nashville, Tennessee

For Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU), Confucius Institute's impact went beyond language and culture. The school turned its 2014 commencement ceremony on May 10 into a celebration of its connection with the CI initiative.

Xu Lin, director-general of Hanban, received an honorary doctorate, delivered the commencement address, and conferred degrees, along with MTSU President Sydney McPhee, to more than 2,000 graduates.

In her speech, Xu said that more than 20 MTSU students have received full scholarships from Hanban to study at Chinese universities; more than 40 high school students in the region participated in Hanban's summer camps in China; 20 elementary school students aD liated with local Confucius Classrooms visited China.

McPhee, who has visited more than 20 provinces in China in the past 17 years and calls himself a "Chinophile", said the university is planning to expand CI in the next five years.

"We just acquired a $10 million building and I already carved out a space for CI worth millions of dollars to develop a Chinese music program," he said.

"I am very happy that people in the area of Tennessee that produced Elvis are interested in embracing Chinese music," responded Xu.

The Confucius Institute there also helped MTSU's research collaboration with Chinese counterparts. It connected the university to Guangxi Botanical Garden in Nanning, China, to study the medicinal effect of Chinese herbs. "We have received over 200 samples [from China] and our scientists have already discovered more than 40 cases that the extracts are positively related to fighting cancer," said McPhee.

Santiago, Chile

Compared with the US, which has more than 100 Confucius Institutes and 350 Confucius Classrooms, the most of all countries, CI's development in Latin America is relatively modest with 26 institutes and 10 classrooms in 11 Latin American countries.

The region, however, welcomed its Confucius Institutes Latin American Regional Center in Santiago, Chile, on May 12. The Confucius Institutes US center was established in Washington half a year ago. Both aim to enhance the communication and cooperation between all Confucius Institutes they oversee.

Attending the launching ceremony, Xu, the outgoing director general of Hanban, said the reason for the center is "the large sum of people from Latin America who want to study Chinese".

Xu was joined by Eduardo Frei, former president of Chile, at the event. Frei is the honorary chairman of an 11-member committee of representatives from China, Brazil, Chile and Peru to oversee the center.

Chile's government has included Chineselanguage education into the curriculum of all middle schools since 2009, as a way to enhance the international competitiveness of the younger generation.

"I hope the other regional countries can also include such lessons in their curriculum because Latin America and China will share more and more interests both economically and politically. And the key for mutual understanding is language," Xu said.

Patricia Cuadra Guerra, a music teacher and a student at the Confucius Institute in Chile, the first country in the region to establish a CI, said she is very interested in Chinese culture and has studied it for one month.

Guerra and her # ve friends sang the Chinese national anthem at the launching ceremony.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Brazil has seven Confucius Institutes and two Confucius Classrooms, the most in Latin America.

"Cultural communication between the two languages has a very long history. China is becoming one of the most important countries in the world, especially for Brazil. I see a bright future for a Confucius Institute in Brazil," said Father Francisco Ivern Simo, vicepresident of the Ponti# cal Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro (PUC-Rio).

The Confucius Institute at PUC-Rio, established in 2011, is one of the largest Confucius Institutes in Brazil, offering 13 credit-based classes a semester to university students in language and culture. It also has part-time language classes with more than 100 local Rio residents enrolled.

"The classes attract students with a variety of social backgrounds, from Congressmen to bus drivers," said Qiao Jianzhen, the institute's director.

The institute has four Chinese teachers, dispatched from Hanban and two local teachers chosen by PUC-Rio, including Tomaz M. Fares, who received a scholarship from Hanban and spent one year studying at Nanjing University in China before returning to teach.

"I want to help more Brazilians to understand more about China," said Fares, who is applying to pursue his graduate studies in international relations at Peking University in Beijing. "I want to become a better teacher of Chinese when I come back," he said.

Washington

The US capital region is where the first Confucius Institute in the US launched. The Confucius Institute at the University of Maryland (UMD), one of the # rst three CIs in the world, has a lot to be proud of.

"I think we paved the road. People do look to us to see what we are doing," said Donna Wiseman, dean of UMD's College of Education. "We feel very strongly that we need to be a good role model."

Wiseman is particularly proud of the institute's ability to prepare Chinese-language teachers at public schools, mainly at the elementary and secondary levels.

With funds from Hanban four years ago, Wiseman was able to build a new academic unit within her own College, called the Center for Chinese Teacher Certi# cation and Development, which offers master's degrees and certificates to students who aspire to become Chinese-language teachers.

The institute also houses the largest HSK testing center in the US which provides standardized testing for pro# ciency in Chinese. The Institute's data showed that about 940 people from nearby states took the test in 2013 and about 600 people have attended this year so far.

According to Hanban, last year only, 370,000 people worldwide attended the test in more than 800 test centers, one-fifth of the total number of participants since the test launched in 1990.

"The growth of Hanban in 10 years is dramatic. I do not know of any other government programs of any other countries that's been so successful in 10 years. I think Hanban and Confucius Institute have done more to improve the visibility and positive image of China than almost anything else. It is huge," said Wallce Loh, president of UMD.

And for Steven Knapp, president of George Washington University who also is a member of the Council of Confucius Institute Headquarters, a combined governing body and advisory board for Confucius Institutes worldwide, CI's success contributes to the well-being of a bigger cause.

"The relationship between our two nations is the most important international relationship for determining the future of the world. To have culture understanding and exchange and people-to-people contact is very critical to the future of the world and to the many challenges that we have to address," said Knapp whose university launched a CI last May.

Chicago

Chicago is where the first partnership between Hanban and a US public-school district was formed.

Established in 2005 as a collaboration between the City of Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and Hanban, the Confucius Institute in Chicago has the largest Chinese-learning program in the US - 63 full-time teachers offering 13,000 elementary and secondary students Chinese and cultural classes in 43 schools.

Housed at the Walter Payton College Preparatory High School, the institute also has a library of more than 10,000 multimedia materials for both K-12 teachers and students.

This year 24 students were selected across CPS for an upcoming trip to Hangzhou, China, for a four-week intensive Chineselanguage immersion program under the "100,000 Strong Initiative".

The initiative, announced by President Barack Obama in November 2009 during a visit to China, aims to improve bilateral relations between the US and China by sending more American students to study in China.

Wanxiang America, the largest Chinese company in Chicago, has been contributing to the initiative and the CI in the city since 2012. According to Wanxiang America, so far 150 US students have studied in China under Wanxiang's financial support. In the next two years, Wanxiang plans to contribute $450,000 to help build 72 more students' connections with China.

* * *

The Confucius Institutes and Classrooms they visited during this tour of the Americas are just snap shots of a grand display of more than 440 CIs and 650 CCs worldwide. It helps to showcase how broad and deep the initiative has helped people get connected with China.

With the rising of China to become the world's second largest economy, the desire and need among people to learn about the country and its language have signi# cantly

increased over the past 10 years. China has a rich combination of more than 5,000 years of civilization and history. How to actively reach out to help the global community know more about it has become increasingly important. In the meantime, the whole operation has to be well perceived by each continent.

Confucius Institutes have spread all over this planet. Even for Xu Lin, the dedicated and tireless steward of CI, the 10-year achievement is "beyond expectation yet tangible". During this trip, Xu said the success lies in "each student, each teacher, the Chinese side, and the foreign partner side." It is the synergized and joint efforts that have led to build this common platform.

In reviewing the report cards of the past 10 years, Xu Lin could see countless signs of success. Now she is mapping the next 10 years for Confucius Institutes.

Contact the writers at cindyliu@chinadailyusa. com, mayzhou@chinadailyusa.com, fanzhang@chinadailyusa.com, charlenecai@chinadailyusa.com and changliu@chinadailyusa.con

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