Diplomacy • Center will teach American history, law, customs to develop international understanding.
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Aiming to convey America's history, values and customs through friendly outreach from lectures and book clubs to service projects and holiday celebrations Southern Utah University will work with Hunan Normal University in Changsha, China, to open an American Cultural Center.
The centers are seen as America's answer to China's sometimes-controversial Confucius Institutes, which teach Chinese language and culture on dozens of campuses throughout the U.S., including the University of Utah. The hundreds of academic affiliations between American and Chinese universities "have done little," the U.S. State Department says, to address general public misunderstandings in China about America.
SUU is one of 10 American higher education institutions receiving new grants of $100,000 from the State Department to open centers with Chinese partners. An earlier round of seed money funded 12 centers developed by schools from the New York Institute of Technology to Arizona State University. A center designed by the University of Minnesota with the Tianjin University of Sport in Tianjin, China, focuses on how the culture and values of sports are infused into American society.
SUU's center is scheduled to open in March 2013, said its co-director, Kurt Harris, director of SUU's Global Engagement Center. It will offer informal weekly activities, including film screenings and English tutoring sessions, tied to monthly themes, from geography to women's rights.
SUU will develop the curriculum, and four SUU students and four Hunan Normal University (HNU) students will work part-time in the center to help with the gatherings, Harris said.
"It is expected that some SUU professors and students will travel to Changsha to lecture, to perform, to present at conferences, etc," he added in an email. "We don't know yet how often that will be."
Most instruction by SUU professors will not be for credit, he said. "Most teaching will be informal so that both HNU students and local Changsha community members can benefit."
Harris said he expects to make his first visit to the developing center in December. His co-director is Tang Jianwen, director of HNU's Office of International Exchange and Cooperation.
SUU music professor Xun Sun, who is originally from China, said in a statement, "It's so important to inform the younger generation of Chinese, especially college students, about American culture, the U.S. political system and democratic institutions. This center will create a path toward more discussion and less conflict between the U.S. and China."
Goals for the American Cultural Center of Changsha, China
The center developed by Southern Utah University and Hunan Normal University will focus on teaching:
U.S. culture, history and institutions.
Community service as an American value.
English language proficiency.
How to become a global citizen with an international world view.
A desire for life-long learning.