Confucius Institute crosses cultures

China has emerged as the world’s fastest growing economy, and USF is prepared to embrace this shift by working with the country to establish a Chinese language and culture institute – the first such institute in Florida.

University administrators said USF has arrived on the international stage by opening the Confucius Institute to prepare students for relations with the growing world power.

“China is the world’s most rapidly growing market, and will soon become the largest,” Provost Ralph Wilcox said.

Wilcox recently traveled to Beijing to sign an agreement establishing the Institute at USF. Dr. Danjin Peng, who will serve as the institute’s first director, accompanied him.

The Institute at USF will provide Chinese language and culture training for students, beginning with introductory courses in Mandarin Chinese and progressing toward more advanced courses as the program grows. A goal is to produce Chinese language teachers at elementary through high school levels. The Institute will also focus on educating students in Chinese culture in a variety of disciplines, including society, history, politics, government and economics.

The Institute helps USF strengthen the economic partnership between Florida and China, Wilcox said. He believes that local companies prepared to work with Chinese businesses are in a position to profit from the economic boom the country is experiencing.

“This isn’t something that will just affect the University,” he said. “It is something that will have a much broader economic impact on the state of Florida.”

The Port of Tampa already profits from the shipping routes between China and Florida that run through the Panama Canal. Tampa’s thriving industry is one of the factors that made USF the most appealing site for a new Confucius Institute.

Maria Crummett, dean of International Affairs at USF, believes that the most important reason for bringing the Institute to USF is the University’s ability to apply Chinese culture throughout the community and to a variety of learning fields. The Confucius Institute is just one part of a network that includes the Tampa Chambers of Commerce, community leaders, the port, Tampa International Airport and the tourism industry.

Classes at the Confucius Institute are expected to draw nearly 150 students from every college this spring.

“One thing that (the Chinese Consulate) really liked about our proposal was that it linked the many disciplines,” Crummett said.

The new Chinese curriculum will especially benefit students studying education, business, political science and public health, Crummett said, since careers in these fields often involve relations with other countries – especially China.

The Confucius Institute is funded with $100,000 from the Chinese government, which USF pledged to match. China will also provide salaries for up to three professors and provide 3,000 volumes of Chinese literature for the school’s library, Wilcox said. The institute’s professors will transfer from Nankai University, located in Tianjin, China.

USF has had a relationship with Nankai University spanning 25 years. Exchange students and professors between the universities have been limited, however, based on the number of scholarships available. With the new Confucius Institute on campus, the Chinese government will support exchange students between the universities on a more consistent basis, Crummett said.

The Confucius Institute will offer two classes this semester and will likely add a third class during the summer. As the institute grows, more classes will be added, and administrators hope to eventually offer a major specializing in Chinese culture.

An official ceremony will be held at USF in March to celebrate the opening.