UMass Boston expands Chinese exchange program

Jacob Aguiar, Special to the Reporter
May. 1, 2014

The physical footprint of UMass Boston is growing and the university is expanding its off-campus programs as well. One example is the UMass Boston’s China Program Center (CPC), which was awarded two federal grants in 2012 from the Department of Education to run two Fulbright Hays Group Project Abroad Programs.

The CPC’s Advanced Chinese Language Immersion Program received a $1 million grant, funding the program for 4 years. The Program sends 16 students each year to live, work and be educated in China for 8 months. So far, 32 students have gone. The program is open to college students and recently graduated professionals from all over the metro area.

Because of space limitations in the University’s Wheatley the CPC’s administrative offices were moved to a nearby Columbia Point office complex at 150 Mt. Vernon Street. The space — in what was once the Bayside Conference Center— also houses UMass’s English as a Second Language Program.

The CPC is a college of study operating out of the College Advancing and Behavioral Studies (CAPS). Classes are typically offered online or at off-campus locations.

“Because of the growth of the CPC through the grants and the enlargement of the Confucius Institute we were working with seven people crammed into and office space designed for three,” said Renee Covalucci, Associate Director of the CPC. “The move [into the Bayside facility] has been a good thing we are helping this place flourish and grow. The more of the its facilities we can make use of the better.”

The overarching goal of the program is to shrink the cultural divide between the two nations and to increase the number of Mandarin-speaking Americans, according to Kaitlyn Lee, program coordinator for the CPC’s Fulbright Hayes sponsored programs. “Because the Chinese economy is growing it is becoming more and more important for the two nations to understand each others cultures more so as to be able to do business with each other. We want to prepare the future talents of America to be able to work well with Chinese,” said Lee.
Lee, who was born in China, understands first hand how easily the Chinese and American cultures clash and lead to misunderstanding each other.

“I just want our students to understand better the situations that cause misunderstanding and be aware of it and also try to see what would be the best way to work around these potential trouble areas” Lee said.

While in China the students take courses in Mandarin and culture studies at Shen She Norma University. They live with a host family and celebrate Chinese New Year with them as a means of gaining an understanding of daily life in China. They also travel, and act as American cultural ambassadors.

Teamed with a Chinese student each of the Americans must prepare a presentation on an American cultural phenomenon and present it to a Chinese high school class. The students also work in an internship during the final weeks of their stay.

The CPC sponsors immersion trips for teachers as well as students through the Chinese Language and Cultural Enrichment program which is also funded through a Fulbright grant.

“We select 15 teachers of Mandarin [and] take them to China for six weeks to learn about Chinese culture,” explained Dr. Wanli Hu, Director of the CPC. “When they come back they complete what we call a curriculum project which they will present at the New England Chinese Teacher Network Conference.  In this way their study in China will influence many other teachers, and being better teachers will educate their students more effectively.”

“There are currently 800 Boston area teachers in the New England Chinese Teacher Network and they look mostly to the CPC as a center for additional training and job placement,” said Covalucci.

The CPC was formed because of Dr. Hu’s ability to attract federal funding for the educational programs he designed and managed. The university funds the college itself but the programs they offer operate on federal funds. The Start Talk Grant Dr. Hu received in 2008 was the catalyst for the formation of the college.

“Before 2006 Mandarin was not being taught on a large scale in America,” Dr. Hu said. “In 2006 President Bush signed the National Security Language Initiative, into law. Mandarin was one of the languages singled out in the initiative as being a priority for national security and so a lot of funding was allocated on the national level toward supporting Chinese language education programs.”  
The CPC Start Talk funded language program teaches kids from the Boston Area in grades k-12 familiarizing them with Chinese language and culture.

Recently the CPC has begun to design self-sufficient programs rather than programs designed around attaching a particular grant. Last year the Chinese government paid to send several provincial level officials, like police commissioners, to the United States to learn about the American justice system.

Kaitlyn Lee oversaw the program.

“It brings in money but it exposes the Chinese officials to the western form of government,” said Lee. “They (the Chinese officials) see how judges are separate from the government  in that they have the power to decided a case without any outside influences other than the law. The idea that judges have that kind of independence from political ties is kind of an eye opener.”