SANFORD — “Nǐ hǎo, rèn shi nǐ hěn gāo xìng.”
Or, in English, “Hello, nice to meet you. ”
That phrase — and more — of the Mandarin Chinese language will be heard around Central Carolina Community College when its Confucius Classroom opens in the fall.
In an agreement with the Confucius Institute at North Carolina State University, Central Carolina has become the first community college in the United States to have a Confucius Classroom.
The Classroom will enable the college to offer both continuing education and curriculum classes in the Chinese language and culture, taught by an instructor from China. The classes will be open to college and high school students, business people, and the general public in the college’s three-county service area of Chatham, Harnett and Lee counties. As part of the Classroom, visitors and businessmen from China will speak to students, participate in cultural activities and visit local businesses.
“This is an exciting and unique opportunity for the students of Central Carolina Community College and the citizens of our three-county service area,” said college President Bud Marchant. “Chinese is second only to English as an international language of business in the world. Knowledge of the Chinese language, as well as China’s cultural and business practices, will enable our students to compete in an increasingly international business environment.”
The Confucius Institute and Classroom are initiatives of the Chinese Ministry of Education to make Chinese language instruction and cultural studies available to high school, college and university students around the world. Almost 300 universities participate at the Institute level, including more than 50 in the United States. There is also an Institute at the Community College of Denver, the only one in the nation at a community college.
North Carolina State University’s Confucius Institute is a partnership between the university, Nanjing Normal University, and Hanban, the office of the Chinese Language Council International, headquartered in Beijing. N.C. State is the first university in the United States to develop a partnership with a community college for a Confucius Classroom.
“It’s a win-win situation,” said Guanglin Dai, N.C. State Confucius Institute program coordinator. “Our goal is to reach out to the whole of North Carolina and become the center for Chinese study and culture. With the establishment of Central Carolina’s Confucius Center, our impact can be extended. It gives us the opportunity to serve more people and bring the best of Chinese culture to North Carolina — that’s our mission.”
Through the partnership with the university, Central Carolina will receive a native Chinese language teacher, who will reside in the community. The council will also provide 1,000 books related to teaching Chinese language and culture, as well as reference books for the college’s library.
The Classroom will also offer opportunities for Americans to visit China and for Chinese to visit this area. Dai said that would increase mutual understanding, improve relations between the countries, and benefit businesses in both.
Marchant brought the idea of a Confucius Classroom to Central Carolina when he became president in August 2008. He had lived in Clinton, S.C., where Presbyterian College had a Confucius Institute. As a result, Chinese scholars, tourists and business people come to that area.
When he found out that NCSU has a Confucius Institute, he and Dr. Lisa Chapman, the college’s Vice President of Instruction, contacted the Institute leaders. They were enthusiastic about starting a Classroom at the community college.
Community leaders are also enthusiastic. Jan Hayes, executive director of Lee County United Way, and her husband, Charles, president of the Research Triangle Park Partnership, went to China in 2006 as part of a partnership delegation, visiting factories and schools. They also saw the signing of the agreement between N.C. State, Nanjing Normal University, and Hanban for N.C. State’s Confucius Institute. Now, she’s excited about the coming of Central Carolina’s Confucius Classroom and the impact it will have.
“It will be a tremendous asset to our community,” she said. “Education is economic development and we’re positioning ourselves and our community to ensure future economic development with this partnership. Educating our community on this culture will pay dividends into the future.”
Then she added with enthusiasm, “I’m going to sign up for it.”
Dr. Jeffrey Moss, superintendent of Lee County Schools, said the Confucius Classroom will benefit his students.
“We are excited to partner with Central Carolina Community College to offer the Chinese language for our students,” he said. “Broadening their understanding of the Chinese language and culture will make them more competitive as they seek post-secondary opportunities.”
Triton High School, in Harnett County Schools, already has a sister-school relationship with a school in China. Students from each have visited the other.
“We were really excited to hear about the Confucius Classroom,” said Triton Principal Brooks Matthews. “Up to now, our students could only study Chinese online. The Classroom could provide an opportunity for them to study it at the college.”
He said that learning about Chinese language and culture, as well as the visits of students to each other’s lands, has broadened the horizons of both and dispelled misconceptions they had about each other. It also made the students more aware that they are in a global job market, competing for jobs not only with graduates of other high schools, but also with students from other countries.
The Confucius Classroom program will be offered through the college’s Continuing Education Department at the Lee County Campus starting with the fall semester. In spring 2010, it will also be offered as a curriculum, college-credit program.