Chicago students prep for China trip

Updated: 2014-05-19 09:47

By Liu Chang (China Daily USA)

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Chicago students prep for China trip
Jane Lu (right), director of Confucius Institute in Chicago, addresses a group of students selected by the Confucius Institute for a trip to Hangzhou, China, with their parents listening in on May 17 in Chicago. Liu Chang / China Daily

What Kyle Sargent said touched his teacher Lusha Yin's heart.

Yin smiled and gently caressed Sargent's head, an act in China that means love and appreciation from an elder to a youngster.

Sargent quoted a Chinese proverb, "Yi ri wei shi, zhong sheng wei fu," which literally translates as "He who teaches me for one day is my father for life".

Sargent, a 17 year-old student at Whitney M. Young Magnet High School, has been studying Chinese for 5 years under Yin. In the first year when Yin asked him if studying Chinese was hard, Sargent answered "Yes" with a frowning brow. In the second year when Yin asked him the same question, he answered "Yes" with hesitation. But in the third year faced with the same question, Sargent answered, "Yes, but fun at the same time," with a smile.

Yin often teaches her students a famous passage from an ancient Chinese poem written by Tang dynasty (618-907) poet Yu Tang: "Diligence is the only shortcut to knowledge, and willpower is the only vessel for the expanse of learning."

Housed at Walter Payton College Prep, the Confucius Institute in Chicago was established in May 2006. It has provided resources for educators, parents, and students in the greater Chicago area to assist with teaching and learning the Chinese language and culture. Its library has more than 10,000 print and multimedia materials for both teachers and students at all academic levels. It is a partnership between Chicago Public Schools (CPS), the Office of Chinese Language Council International under the Ministry of Education of China (Hanban) and Shanghai's East China Normal University.

The third-largest public school district in the US, CPS was the first public school district to form a partnership with the Confucius Institute. Sixty-three full-time teachers teach 13,000 students Chinese and cultural classes, including 7,000 elementary school students, 3,000 junior high and 3,000 senior high school students.

Jane Lu, director of the Confucius Institute in Chicago, said the institute's Chinese learning program is the largest in the country. The institute offers textbook materials to the 43 schools that provide a CPS Chinese World Language Program, hosts professional development programs and workshops for K-12 language teachers, hosts educational delegations from the US and abroad, hosts visiting visual and performing artists from China, and hosts pre-travel cultural orientation seminars for the business, diplomatic and educational communities.

Lu feels her shoulders bear an indispensable sense of responsibility and mission. "When I came to the US in 1989, I felt a strong sense of patriotism. Leaving my country makes me love it even more," she said. "I believe I can make a big contribution to my country here."

Lu has been sticking to her promise to help try to build a positive relationship between the two countries. On Saturday there were 24 students with their parents sitting in the library of Payton Prep for China's Hangzhou trip orientation. The 24 students were selected based on their proficiency level of Chinese, GPA and teachers' recommendations for a four-week intensive Chinese immersion program under the "100,000 Strong Initiative".

The initiative, announced by President 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.

In 2011, then Chinese President Hu Jintao visited Wanxiang America, the largest Chinese company in Chicago, and encouraged Wanxiang to participate in the initiative to help improve the bilateral relations. Wanxiang America Corporation, together with Wanxiang Group, has provided financial support since 2012 for the "100,000 Strong Initiative".

The 24 students will study at Hangzhou Wanxiang Polytechnic School. The courses will include Chinese grammar, character writing and extracurricular activities such as paper-cutting, Chinese dance and martial arts. Students will get tours of Hangzhou, where Wangxiang is headquartered, and other sites of historic interests.

Daniel Li, project manager of Wanxiang America, said that so far 150 US students have traveled to China for study abroad in Wanxiang's programs. On average, each student is sponsored by Wanxiang to the tune of $10,000 for the study abroad program.

Li hopes to see more Chinese enterprises in the US help support the initiative. "We hope to become the beneficiary of US-China relations and become deeply involved with the community," Li said. "We need to be part of the community."