SINGING MERRILY: Local students sing Chinese songs during an activity held by the Confucius Institute at the University of Lagos, Nigeria, on March 7 (ZHANG WEIYI)
In Washington D.C., there was no institution until 2013, when George Washington University opened the city's first. Since its launch, the Confucius Institute has served more than 100 working professionals in the D.C. area, including employees of foreign embassies, neighboring universities and the federal government, according to Steven Knapp, President of the university who is currently serving a two-year term as one of 10 members of the Council of Confucius Institute Headquarters, a combined governing body and advisory board for Confucius Institutes worldwide.
"One of the unique roles and opportunities we have as a Confucius Institute is not only to reach out to our own students and educate them in Chinese language, history and culture, but also to reach beyond our campus to our neighbors," Knapp said while delivering the opening speech at a ceremony held by the Confucius Institute at George Washington University on September 26.
During the event, Greta Morris, acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs and Public Diplomacy at the U.S. State Department, also gave a brief address congratulating the university's Confucius Institute for spreading Chinese culture throughout Washington D.C.
"As a diplomat, as well as a state department official who has studied and used foreign language in my overseas postings, I know how important it is to be able to speak and understand another language," she said. "Fluency in a foreign language is not only necessary for communication, but the key to understanding another culture."
Eric Baker is studying at the George Washington University's Confucius Institute. The Virginia-based professional said the effort the university has put into its Confucius Institute has yielded results in his career. He currently works for Loginex International, where he specializes in international employee relocations. He hopes his studies at the Confucius Institute will help him turn his focus to East Asia.
Baker added that he feels at home at the center, where he's made many friends from different cultures. "It's a place where people of all ages and backgrounds, in all stages of their careers, can come to exchange their common interest in China," he said. "It is truly a great community, and it offers a haven to those who want to be a part of it."
Business is a major factor in motivating local people to learn Chinese at the Confucius Institutes, according to Li Ning, a teacher who taught Chinese at the Confucius Institute at Heidelberg University, Germany, from 2011 to 2013.
"From the perspective of the students, they have practical goals. Many of the students or their parents are business people working in China and traveling between Heidelberg and Beijing or other Chinese provinces many times a year. They believe that knowing some Chinese can help their business," Li said.
In Europe, there are a total of 158 Confucius Institutes and 178 Confucius Classrooms, according to Hanban. Germany alone hosts 15 Confucius Institutes and three Confucius Classrooms.
The Confucius Institute at Heidelberg University was jointly established by Heidelberg University and China's Shanghai Jiao Tong University in April 2010. While offering language courses for the public at large, the institute also put focus on cultural offerings, said Li. Its main target groups were academics, university and secondary-school students, teachers of Chinese, and members of commercial enterprises.
"We often hold seminars, conferences and workshops—sometimes in conjunction with other institutes—on Chinese painting, calligraphy, music and
literature, as well as courses on traditional Chinese medicine," Li said.
The institute also organizes service functions and networking events for the entire Rhine-Neckar Metropolitan Region in collaboration with their partners there.
In Italy, the Confucius Institute at La Sapienza University in Rome was the first among the 11 Confucius Institutes to be established in the country. Its Italian director, Federico Masini, was emphatic about the success of the program so far.
"When we established the Confucius Institute in Rome eight years ago, many wondered how we could possibly bring together two cultures so different to each other. Today, thanks to mutual willingness and curiosity, we proved that it can be done," Masini said.
Exchange between Italians and Chinese at the institute has even gone beyond just language learning.
"I have been practicing Tai Chi for five years, and that is why I also study the Chinese language," said Piero Del Vecchio from Rome. He said a specific interest or goal would be usually needed in order to draw someone close to such a distant language.
"For some people, it is the hope to find more chances for their business, for students is the hope of a better future. For me, it was Tai Chi. I have found the wisdom I have derived from Tail Chi has benefited my body and mind," he said.
Masini said the interaction between the two cultures would bring long-term benefits for Italian society. "Cultural exchanges with China will impact positively on our society as a whole. The exchanges would also contribute to preparing our future Italian citizens to be more open-minded people."