The ultimate lesson package: a year of learning and two weeks of immersion, free of charge

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Alice Yu

When senior Aidan Brooks dropped Japanese II to take Chinese I his junior year, he held the hopes of getting the chance to travel to China. Little did he know that roughly 10 months later, he would travel to China with his airfare and living quarters all paid for by the University of Missouri’s Confucius Institute and Shanghai Normal University, located in Shanghai, China.
At the beginning of the second semester of the 2014-15 school year, students enrolled in Chinese I learned that the Confucius Institute offered scholarships for the trip to China.
“Students receiving [an] A got full scholarship,” co-director of the MU Confucius Institute Dr, Ouyang Wen said in an email interview.“ Students receiving B, C, and D [had] different levels of scholarships. It depends on students’ final grade to receive full scholarship (level 1) — round trip air ticket — or a portion of scholarship — level 2, 3, 4.”
A relatively new class, Chinese courses are already garnering more and more interest. Chinese I was first offered at RBHS for the 2014-15 school year. For the 2015-16 school year, not only is there another Chinese I course, student displayed enough interest to also open up a Chinese II section.
“The MU Confucius Institute signed an agreement in 2012 with Columbia Public Schools providing Chinese,” Dr. Wen said. “We started to offer Chinese classes at Gentry and Lang [Middle Schools] in 2013. Then the Chinese classes started at Rock Bridge in 2014. The instructors were provided by Shanghai Normal University (SHNU), the partner university of the MU Confucius Institute.”
After hearing about Brooks’ experience in Chinese I and his trip to China, senior Louis Youmans decided to enroll in the course for the 2015-16 school year, becoming one of 14 students to take Chinese I.
“It’s a nice group of people in the class. Sometimes you’re in a class with people who aren’t fun to be around, but with our class, it seems like there’s a lot of people that are fun to be around,” Youmans said. “If we get a China trip, it’ll be cool to have those people in China, and it’s cool to have people in the classroom.”
Already, the Confucius Institute spent $80,000 sending students to China over the summers of 2013 and 2014, and they’re planning to continue the scholarship program for students this year.
For the trip to China during 2015, students left from the Columbia Regional Airport early in the morning on July 6 and landed in Shanghai. During their short two-week visit to China, students visited Shanghai, Xi’an, Hangzhou, and Beijing.
“[My favorite part of the trip was] developing friendships and just meeting new people, experiencing new things with people you hadn’t really bonded with before,” Brooks said. “If it was a favorite place I went to, I’d say it was like just going shopping at different places and immersing myself in the culture, because you’d have to speak to the vendors in Chinese. It was definitely a great experience. I really liked the whole trip, in general.”
During their stay in Shanghai, students stayed at Shanghai Normal University and took Chinese speaking, listening, and culture lessons alongside their tours around the city. By immersing students in the culture and environment of China, the Confucius Institute accomplished one of their goals of expanding the cultural and educational exchange between students in Missouri and China.
“It allowed our students to have better understanding of China and Chinese people while practicing Chinese what they learned in the class,” Dr. Wen said. “During the trip, students were guided to communicate with people from different cultural background and learn social skills.”
The missions of the Confucius Institute include enhancing the understanding of the Chinese language and culture, along with encouraging consultative, educational, and economic relations between the two cultures.
“People shouldn’t be afraid to take Chinese. I would say the only really hard part is the sheer amount of characters that you have to learn and tones. That’s hard, because it’s very different from what English is like,” Brooks said. “But besides that, the grammar is really easy, really basic, and it’s really similar to English. Subject-verb-object. Every experience I’ve had with the language has been really fun, and I recommend anybody to take it. It’ll be a very useful language in the future for sure.”
art by Megan Goyette