The University of Iowa

UI to open cultural center in China

October 13th, 2014

From The Daily Iowan

A 30-year relationship between Hebei Province in China and the University of Iowa might soon be taken to the next level.

The UI International Programs, in partnership with the Division of World Languages, Literatures, and Cultures as well as Iowa Sister States, has recently been awarded a grant to open an American Cultural Center in Hebei.

The opening date is to be determined.

The relationship started between the states when Xi Jinping, now China’s president, and Gov. Terry Branstad met on an agricultural research trip in 1985.

Iowa Sister States, a nonprofit organization that manages Iowa’s official relationships with foreign states, was established the same year; it organizes partnerships with countries all over the world from Russia to Malaysia to Taiwan.

“The goal is to transition that piece of paper, that agreement into something that’s more about trust and a relationship,” said Kim Heidemann, the executive director of Iowa Sister States.

UI Associate Provost Downing Thomas, the dean of International Programs, said he is particularly excited about this program.

He said although there are several other similar programs throughout Iowa, this is the first of its kind for the university.

Russell Ganim, the director of the World Languages, Literatures, and Cultures Division, said the U.S. State Department awarded the $100,000 grant as part of its effort to develop better U.S.-Chinese relations.

It would also be a counterpart to the Confucius Institute, a Chinese nonprofit institute whose aim is to promote Chinese language and culture internationally.

At the moment however, Ganim said, the project has very recently run into some roadblocks.

“At this point I really can’t say [what the problems are],” he said. “But let’s just say we have some organizational issues we’re still trying to work through.”

Because these issues have only appeared in the past few days, how serious they are to the future of the project remains unclear, Ganim said.

Although he can’t say one way or the other whether the project will continue, he said, he’s hopeful and “confident we can at least work hard to resolve these matters.”

In the proposal for the program, the State Department approved three main components, Ganim said, the first of which involves RAGBRAI.

“We wanted something that was typically Iowan,” he said. “We want to bring over students and community leaders from Hebei so they can see what the state is like from the perspective of its most famous event.”

The grant money would fund any costs involved with bringing a group over to participate in RAGBRAI.

The second part of the proposal would involve the exchange of music and dance, and the third component of the proposal involves the American Cultural Center.

The center would be located on the campus of Hebei Normal University, Ganim said, and would be a place where students and others could learn about American and Midwestern culture through a variety of events.

“[The center] will help guide people who are interested in the U.S. and Iowa in particular to how they can make connections, whether they are educational exchanges or simply tourism,” Thomas said.
Thomas said the center will be open to everyone and will be filled with reading materials, computer access, and presentation facilities, as well as hosting classes and seminars on American culture.
If everything remains on course, Thomas said, the grant would fund the program for two years through the summer of 2016.

“This program is just another way in which Iowa leads the way in international relationship building,” Heidemann said. “These relationships are unique, and they’re not something every state in this country has. It’s not unusual for us, and I think it’s something we take for granted that our educational institutions and businesses can make these connections, and that’s just not the case elsewhere.”