It Is Essential to Understand Each Other’s Cultures

--An interview with Bryna Goodman, Director of Confucius Institute at the University of Oregon

As part of a growing national and international trend to expand educational ties with China, to promote Chinese language training and to further intercultural understanding, the University of Oregon (UO) established a Confucius Institute which opened in October 2010. The UO's Confucius Institute joined a network of almost 320 such organizations worldwide, including about 70 at U.S. universities.

Q: Why was UO interested in establishing a Confucius Institute?

A: At a time when China is of enormous global importance, the establishment of a Confucius Institute at the University of Oregon provides us with a new opportunity for highlighting and expanding Chinese language studies and the understanding of China across campus. A University of Oregon-Hanban (Chinese Language Council International) agreement was signed in the fall of 2009 as well as a partnership between UO and East China Normal University, our partner Chinese university in the three-way partnership that makes up the Confucius Institute. We have renovated office space and established a website.

In addition to supplementing the university’s Chinese language programs with Chinese language community outreach, the Confucius Institute at University of Oregon will offer programs that address China’s global importance. We highlight four themes:

• Chinese culture across borders
• Chinese culture on a global stage
• China futures / global futures
• China and global sustainability

The Institute is organized with an advisory board and an academic steering committee. The advisory board which determines general policy and major projects, includes university administrators, faculty, Portland representatives, and Eugene community representatives. The academic steering committee composed mostly of university faculty, reviews proposals for speakers and events submitted to the Institute by faculty and community members.

The Co-Director from East China Normal University, Professor Dai Lan, focuses her efforts on developing our Chinese language programs and communicating with both Hanban and our partner university. I oversee all public and academic programs. Our Managing Director, Zhang Yifang, handles event arrangements and budgeting.

Q: What was the background of Chinese language and culture education in Oregon before the Confucius Institute was established?

A: The University of Oregon has a long tradition of Chinese language and cultural studies.

In our Department of East Asian Languages and Literatures, six full-time faculty teach Chinese language, literature, and linguistics. In 2007, the university received a grant to develop a Chinese language Flagship program. In this program, students with a high level of Chinese language ability take courses in various subjects including science and math that are taught in Chinese by native speakers. Many of the students in this program studied in the Portland public schools K-12 immersion program. All Flagship students spend one year at Nanjing University.

Beyond language and literature, other China specialists include:

• The History Department, with two faculty who offer courses on modern and premodern China
• The Geography Department, with two China geographers
• The departments of Anthropology, Sociology, and Art History, each with one scholar specializing in China

Q: What role will the Confucius Institute play in terms of Chinese language training and intercultural understanding in the community?

A: The Confucius Institute at the University of Oregon sponsors public programs in Eugene and in Portland. For example, in spring 2010 we sponsored a conference on Chinese gardens to celebrate the ten-year anniversary of the Portland Chinese Garden. The recent Confucius Institute inaugural activities included a Kunqu performance at the university theater, an art exhibit at the university museum, and a film program at the university library. We are beginning to plan our Chinese language outreach programs involving Eugene schools.

In 2011, we will co-sponsor a Chinese film festival, the annual conference of the North American Association of Chinese Linguistics, and a conference on Chinese information technology, in addition to lectures on Chinese medicine, poetry, food, and film.

Q: How does the UO Confucius Institute plans to serve as a resource for Chinese language teaching and learning in other communities in Oregon?

A: We are formulating several plans to facilitate the teaching of Chinese language.

• We are helping to develop online Chinese language teaching modules.
• We are working with the Oak Hill School in Eugene to help them expand their Chinese language program.
• We are exploring the possibility of offering community outreach Chinese language classes.

Q: What are the major challenges for the UO Confucius Institute and how will you define its success?

A: The major challenge is to reach across the university and community by creating programs of interest to people in fields that are not China-specific. For example, students and faculty in sciences increasingly recognize that China is important in their fields but they lack China knowledge and China specialists. Many Eugene citizens know nothing at all about China, but in this globalized world it is essential for Americans and Chinese to understand each other’s cultures. China is now Oregon’s top trade partner. By offering public programs that include Chinese history and society as well as Chinese language and culture, we hope to broaden public understanding.

For more information about Confucius Institute at the University of Oregon, please visit UO-CI website.