Building our Global Community
Written by Amanda Bartlett | Journalism | University of Iowa ’18
On an average weekday at 7:30 in the morning, most high school students are just waking up and getting ready for their upcoming classes. Others, like Nina Elkadi, are already at their desks, pencils poised over their papers, learning a brand-new language.
Elkadi, a junior at Iowa City West High School, is one of several students taking Chinese through the Post-Secondary Enrollment Option (PSEO) at the University of Iowa. The courses are offered on-site at local high schools, allowing students to take college level courses when the high school does not offer a comparable course.
“Being able to talk to many different people, the power of language, and having appreciation for another part of the world…I think that’s really important,” Elkadi says. “Everyone should be willing or want to learn about somewhere other than the U.S., and learning a language is one of the best ways to do that. It’s why I enrolled.”
This opportunity is all thanks to the Confucius Institute at the UI, which is celebrating 10 years of collaborative programming between the university and local communities. Programs offered by the Confucius Institute serve to enhance and enrich language learning, cultural exchange, and teacher education through classes, outreach, and research.
Classes like the one Elkadi is taking provide learners of various age groups an introduction to the Chinese language system, real-life practice using the target language, meaningful interaction with Chinese native speakers, and hands-on activities to deepen their understanding of Chinese culture.
“Many learners benefit from our language program because it satisfies their professional development needs, helps build connections with business or personal contacts, increases employment opportunities, lays the foundation for future exploration of the language and culture, and broadens their vision as world citizens,” says Xi Ma, curriculum coordinator of the Confucius Institute.
In addition, the Confucius Institute provides funding support to graduate students as well as faculty working on Chinese second-language acquisition and pedagogy for their professional development. These students and faculty participate in various research projects and serve as co-authors in the publications.
The Confucius Institute also hosts cultural events that allow the domestic community to engage with the international community and learn firsthand about various aspects of Chinese culture, including history, the arts, and contemporary Chinese society.
“These events also give Chinese students here on campus the opportunity to share and bond with the local community, which can help the students feel more connected with this temporary home they have chosen so far away from friends and family,” says Erin Mullins, program coordinator of the Confucius Institute.
Primarily, the goal of the Confucius Institute is to encourage cultural competency for students when they enter into a multicultural workforce.
“Since everything from obtaining an education to manufacturing and trade to solving and preventing environmental problems are being approached globally, it is increasingly important that students are confident in their ability to communicate with and work constructively with people from other cultures,” says Mullins. “Conversely, the more we allow people from other cultures to learn about and be a part of our Iowa culture, the more we can positively impact the view and attitudes people of other countries hold about us.”