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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

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February 26, 2024
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Bobby's Inside Story
February 26, 2024

Bridging the Cultural Divide

It may have taken decades, but Americans are finally starting to appreciate China for more than pork fried rice and cool tattoo designs. With a booming economy and rapid urbanization, China has quickly become a big player on the global scene, and Americans are taking notice and developing a better understanding of the global superpower.

The Confucius Institute of UMass Boston, one of 37 such institutes across the United States, works to help build that understanding. “The Confucius Institute provides a platform for people to make connections between the US and China,” explained Associate Director Baifeng Sun. The Institute is a two-way support system that helps train guest teachers from China and provides education resources for American schools and organizations.

The Institute recently hosted the fifth New England World Language Department Chair Seminar at UMass Boston, providing an opportunity for educators from both sides of the ocean to share their experiences with Chinese education programs. Workshops were provided for guest teachers to help them adapt to the culture of American academia. The seminar also connected American schools with funding resources. “We hope people know that if their school doesn’t have the money to start a Chinese program, they can get support from China,” Sun said. http://charliechangallery.tripod.com/sitebuildercontent/sitebuilderpictures/bwygallery02.jpg The seminar concluded with a lecture from Dr. Sidney J. Gluck of the New School of Social Research on “the effects of China’s foreign policy and economic power.”

That economic power may be one explanation for the current interest in China among Americans, explained Wanli Hu, Director of The Confucius Institute. “Economical reasons might have a fundamental role. More American people pay attention and learn Chinese and go to China. Ten years ago, things were different.” Chinese is being taught in more American middle and high schools, and last year became an AP course offered alongside Spanish and French. The Confucius Institute encourages American students to start learning Chinese, and on April 19 UMass Boston will host the third Chinese Bridge U.S. High School Student Speech Contest with students from across the United States. The competition is an opportunity for nonnative Chinese speakers to showcase their developing fluency in the language.

The Confucius Institute offers Chinese learning opportunities to a range of people, with programs for senior citizens and Chinese classes on weekends that are open to UMass students. The Institute has also received a grant to run a seminar in Mandarin Chinese, the most popular dialect of the language, this summer for middle and high school students.

Although language instruction is a big part of the Institute, its larger goal is to familiarize Americans with the culture of modern China. “We hope we can help people know about the real China, not the China from the newspaper,” Sun explained. “It’s so different to be there … people are shocked.” The Confucius Institute works with the East Asian program to organize student trips to China to help Americans get a better understanding of the country. The Institute is now looking to recruit 40 students for an upcoming trip to China as part of the China Now program.

Although American interest in China is just now gaining momentum, Hu noted that Chinese students have been interested in the States for years. “The whole world competes for Chinese students,” he said. “America has opened its door to Chinese students, so more and more students come here to study. Last year 38,000 Chinese students came to the United States and there are 150 students from mainland China at UMass Boston.” Sun continued, “Chinese people spend a lot of time learning English. Why? Because we want to learn about the world and learn from Americans. Now it’s kind of reversed … If students learn more about China, that will shorten the distance and shorten the gaps. That will be really meaningful for the two big nations of the world and for future generations.”