Confucius Institute expanded in second year at WKU

Tyler Prochazka

The WKU Confucius Institute is now in its second year of implementing volunteer teacher programs which aim to bring student teachers from China to teach at Kentucky schools — three of which landed at WKU.

This is part of the Confucius Institute’s broader initiative to help spread Chinese language and culture.

Of the teachers at WKU, one is teaching a language class and two are housed within the Confucius Institute to teach community-learning classes and provide tours to guests.

Tian Xiaolin and Guo Shanfeng, both graduate students from China, prepared for three months in Beijing before coming to America.

For Guo, one of the biggest cultural differences has been American students’ individualism.

“Americans are not afraid to speak their mind,” Guo said.

Across Kentucky, the Confucius Institute provides 23 teachers from kindergarten to post-graduate levels. This number is up from 11 Chinese teachers last year.

Cheryl Kirby-Stokes, Confucius Institute coordinator for education and community outreach, said she hopes to expand this number to 50 teachers next year.

Based on the first year, Kirby-Stokes said the program has been a success.

“(The schools) loved it. Every school wanted the teachers back,” she said.

Denise Reetzke helped bring the program to an elementary and high school in Franklin this year.

After her daughter had participated in WKU’s China Flagship program, which offers students an accelerated Chinese course and opportunities to study abroad, Reetzke pushed to get Chinese teachers locally.

“The young (elementary) students have totally embraced them. Walking down the hallway, if the Chinese teachers are there, the kids are saying ‘Nihao,’” she said.

In Franklin, the teachers are introducing students to Chinese culture and language, Reetzke said, adding she hopes to increase the number of Chinese teachers next year from three to four.

The Chinese teachers, who have been in Franklin for six weeks, have already been “embraced” by the community, Reetzke said. The teachers have been taken to a baseball game, a concert and even taught how to ride bikes.

“I love that these three girls are going to go back to China say what a wonderful time they had,” Reetzke said. “They are going to take a good picture of America back.”

The Confucius Institute is a program established by Hanban, China’s Ministry of Education. WKU established the first Confucius Institute in Kentucky after going through the process with Hanban two years ago.

The institute is also hosting a music club and plans to partner with other departments to bring workshops related to the program to WKU.

There are also plans for the Institute to host trips to China for high school and WKU students during the summer.

“China is the second largest economy and an important business partner. It’s important for the US and China to understand each other,” Kirby-Stokes said. “The Confucius Institute provides the opportunity for understanding.”

Tian and Guo began teaching the classes on Sept. 18. In China, people had told them they would get “all you can eat KFC” because they were going to Kentucky. Even though they do not eat KFC, they both have a positive view of the country so far.

“Americans are very friendly and polite,” Tian said. “Drivers stop when you are crossing the road.”