Confucius Institute Celebrates One Year of Culture on Campus

Event at GW coincides with Chinese exchange program’s 10th anniversary.

Steve Knapp
President Steve Knapp honors the university's Confucius Center, which opened in 2013.
September 26, 2014

Although Eric Baker learned Mandarin while living in China for two years, the young Virginia-based professional worried about losing the fluency he’d acquired abroad. He wanted to continue building on his language skills in a challenging environment, where he could immerse himself in Chinese culture. The first place he turned was the George Washington University’s Confucius Institute.

“The faculty welcomed me with open arms and open ears,” he said, explaining that the institute’s staff quickly paired him with a one-on-one tutor who could accommodate his work schedule.

That’s the goal of Confucius Institutes: to attract students like Mr. Baker interested in Chinese language and cultural studies. The international centers are affiliated with the Chinese Ministry of Education, and they’re designed to promote stronger ties between the U.S. and China. Of the more than 430 Confucius Institutes across the globe, none were located in D.C. until GW opened the city’s first in 2013. The institute has brought several Chinese dignitaries to its space at 2147 F St. NW, including China’s Vice Premier Liu Yandong, the highest-ranking female official in China. She toured the center last November.

This week, the Confucius Institute Headquarters celebrated the 10th anniversary of the program by holding festivities all over the world, giving GW an opportunity to commemorate the academic work its own center started a year ago. Mr. Baker showcased the Chinese he’s perfected on campus while emceeing an event at the Charles E. Smith Center on Thursday, highlighting the GW Confucius Institute’s progress. The program featured introductory remarks from President Steven Knapp, who is currently serving a two-year term as one of 10 members of the Council of the Confucius Institute Headquarters.

Dr. Knapp said that since it launched, GW’s 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.

“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,” Dr. Knapp said.

Because each Confucius Institute in America collaborates with a Chinese partner university, GW has formed a close relationship with Nanjing University, a school that has operated in the eastern province of Jiangsu since 1902. Dr. Knapp explained that GW and Nanjing University are currently working on student exchanges to enhance the Confucius Institute’s mission.

Nanjing University’s vice president Cheng Chongqing added that he looks forward to its continued partnership with GW’s Confucius Institute, which already has “achieved remarkable success, with many Chinese courses offered and increasing the numbers of Chinese learners,” he said.

The event also included a brief address from Greta Morris, acting deputy assistant secretary for public affairs and public diplomacy at the U.S. State Department, who congratulated GW’s Confucius Institute for spreading Chinese culture throughout Washington.

“As a diplomat and state department officer who has studied and used 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 to communication, but a key to understanding another culture.”

Mr. Baker said that the effort GW 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 GW’s Confucius Institute will help him pivot his focus to East Asia. He 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,” Mr. Baker said. “It is truly a great community, and it offers a haven to those who want to be a part of it.”