The high heat and humidity of summer in Williamsburg has done little to slow the pace of the William & Mary Confucius Institute (WMCI). A full program of events keeps Rowe House humming, filled with faculty, staff, students, local community members and school children even when other areas of William & Mary see a decrease in traffic.
The WMCI, a collaborative educational and service partnership between the W&M, Beijing Normal University (BNU), and the Office of Chinese Language Council International (Hanban), is charged with promoting the study of Chinese language and culture, supporting the teaching of Chinese at W&M and in local communities and facilitating US-China cultural exchanges on various levels.
“Language learning needs consistent effort,” said Ma Lei, the Chinese deputy director of WMCI. “We offer activities during the summer when some people have more free time so that our programs will attract more learners and help students of all ages improve their Chinese language proficiency.”
Throughout the summer the WMCI offers beginning, intermediate and business Chinese classes in Williamsburg, and this year it has also launched a pilot program offering business Chinese for professionals in Washington, D.C., in conjunction with the W&M Washington Office.
“We started talking to the Confucius Institute about summer classes because there is such broad interest in the D.C. area for Chinese language and culture,” said Adam Anthony, director of the W&M Washington Office.
“We also thought the idea of offering lower cost ‘community’ language classes paired with credit-bearing Chinese classes would help reach a broad group of students and alumni. The university is continually looking for ways to engage with alumni in the D.C. area, and providing academic instruction from a William & Mary professor is a terrific way to reach them.”
Tai chi classes for the local community, Chinese Proficiency (HSK) and Chinese Proficiency Oral (HSKK) testing for students as well as a summer camp for local children all allow the WMCI to continue its outreach to local and regional audiences.
In addition, the WMCI also runs more specialized programs for its academic audiences. This summer it worked with faculty from W&M’s Chinese Studies section to teach American methodologies of classroom teaching to incoming visiting scholars from China, and coordinated professors from W&M’s Department of Modern Languages and Literatures, Department of Governments, School of Education and School of Law to assist six visiting instructors from Beijing Normal University in English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher training.
“These types of professional development opportunities are mutually beneficial on a number of levels,” said Steve Sechrist, director of W&M’s Office of International Students, Scholars and Programs.
“Academically speaking, our visiting faculty from abroad have the opportunity to observe how their discipline is taught in the U.S. and experience a different pedagogical approach. Conversely, through the visiting teachers’ questions and observations, our faculty benefit from an outside perspective on their approach to instruction.
“Additionally, language teaching often serves as a vehicle for transmission of culture. Despite the relative short duration of their stay, their experiences in the US will inform their understanding of American culture and enable them to bring that understanding to their students. “
Further afield, the WMCI helped sponsor William & Mary’s first overseas New Student and Parent Event in Beijing, China. More than 100 incoming undergraduate and graduate students, along with their parents, were welcomed to a reception/orientation session at the Hilton Hotel to learn more about the history and background of William & Mary, current graduate schools, the demographics of the university, and other information pertinent to international students.
“WMCI has been a central contributor to the growing ties of cooperation between William & Mary and our Chinese partners,” said Stephen E. Hanson, vice provost for international affairs. “The number of activities that continue at the institute on a year-round basis is truly remarkable.”