By Kaitlin DeWulf for The Daily Iowan
More University of Iowa students will be saying “ni hao” as the Confucius Institute continues to grow in popularity.
Membership and participation in the institute has skyrocketed since its inception eight years ago.
Confucius Institute program coordinator Erin Mullins said the cultural portion of the program had grown from 300 participants in 2009 to 1,768 in 2013. The cultural programs include classes, community performances, lectures, and workshops.
Chinese scholars, instructors, and TAs that teach courses for the University of Iowa Chinese Department and the Confucius Institute come from all over China.
When the Confucius Institute was first established at the UI in the fall of 2006, there were 10 students formally enrolled in its UI credit course Beginning Chinese 1. This spring, the institute had 39 students who formally registered in all of its credit classes, and officials expect even more in the fall semester.
“Students nowadays have developed their awareness as a world citizen,” said Xi Ma, curriculum coordinator with the UI Confucius Institute. “Thus they are more interested in learning foreign languages and cultures.”
The institute is an international nonprofit program operated under the government of the People’s Republic of China. Its goal is to promote Chinese language and culture, support local Chinese teaching internationally, and facilitate cultural exchanges.
Confucius Institute Director Chuanren Ke said the program is highly integrated in the UI community, particularly the UI Division of World Languages, Literatures, and Cultures and the UI International Programs.
Mullins said this collaboration has increased the network of contacts, making it easier to inform more people about upcoming classes and events.
“I think people in this area are looking for opportunities to learn about and experience other cultures,” Mullins said.
The institute offers music performances, hands-on arts and cooking workshops, and wellness and educational classes, Mullins said. She said the services the Confucius Institute provides is the perfect opportunity for individuals, schools, and families to participate and learn more about Chinese culture.
Mullins said although the UI Confucius Institute remains the only one in Iowa, the program has grown significantly in the past eight years as the U.S., along with many other countries, and China have worked together to help bridge the cultural differences through increased communication and interaction.
The Confucius Institute has expanded to more than 300 locations in 93 countries worldwide since it began, ranging from Singapore to South Africa.
Wu Qianlong, Confucius Institute Chinese director at the University of Cape Town, said the program plays a significant role in promoting Chinese in South Africa. He said the institute has been well received by the student body and continues to grow in response to heightened interest in Chinese culture.
“[The Confucius Institute] offers a channel for students to access positive information about present-day China and also promotes exchanges of students from UCT and other universities in China,” Qianlong said.
To match the increased interest in the Confucius Institute, Ma said they plan to standardize their non-credit course curriculum and featured culture programs to provide better services to local Iowans.
Additionally, the institute plans to seek further cooperation opportunities with the UI College of Education and local school districts in the area of K-12 Chinese learning.