by Julia Pierrepont III
LOS ANGELES, Nov. 27 (Xinhua) -- "The Confucius Institute gives our fellows and students exactly what they need to enable them to compete in the international marketplace," said Susan Jain, the dynamic executive director of the Confucius Institute of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).
UCLA is a public research university located in the southwest of the United States, known worldwide for the breadth and quality of its academic, research, health care, cultural, continuing education and athletics programs.
Jain feels the Confucius Institute's language programs are key to giving American kids a competitive future. She holds a bachelor's degree in Chinese language and a doctorate from the University of Hawaii in Theater.
"When American kids learn languages like Mandarin and understand more about foreign cultures, it opens up all kinds of well-paid job opportunities for them and makes them better equipped to compete with applicants from other countries," she explained.
In 2007, Jain helped open the UCLA Confucius Institute. Under her leadership, the Confucius Institute has been connecting the dots, filling the gaps, and tapping into the tremendous resources available at UCLA and in local community for the study of Chinese language and culture.
The UCLA Confucius Institute is a non-profit, international public educational organization, similar to better-known international language and cultural organizations like Britain's British Council, France's Alliance Francaise, Spain's Cervantes Institute and Germany's Goethe Institute.
Its wider mission is to promote the study of Chinese language and culture abroad. And they do that by building strong ties with the community and serving under-represented youth and ethnicities.
"The Institute is a powerful force for cultural diversity. They are looking to teach the world what true collaboration and multi-cultural discourse looks like, a creative, impactful way," Shabnam Fasa, the founder and artistic director of the Santa Monica Youth Orchestra, told Xinhua.
"They help provide our students with fantastic, tuition-free programs to learn American, Chinese, Spanish, Iranian and Hawaiian music. Our dream is to create a multicultural ensemble representative of LA's rich cultural diversity to present at the 2028 Olympics," said Fasa.
In the United States, the Confucius Institute also develops Chinese language curriculum for public and private schools, trains teachers, holds the HSK Chinese proficiency examination, hosts cultural and artistic presentations, and shares cultural events and information about life and art from other countries.
Under the capable direction of Jain, UCLA's Confucius Institute has proven the generative nexus behind many exciting cross-cultural events and programs with such heavyweights as: the Smithsonian Museum, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the Asia Society, the Los Angeles Unified School District, and many more.
"We arrange deeper cultural exchanges, like the China Onscreen Biennial, which is the first-of-its-kind, collectively-curated, film tour, festival and retrospective that brought additional, unique insights into our film selection process. That was a new kind of teaching moment for the public and our programers too," said Jain.
Legendary theater director, Peter Sellers, now UCLA professor in World Arts and Culture, has worked closely with the Confucius Institute on several projects.
"The Institute opens doors. It's no longer possible for any of us, especially young people, not to be involved with China, when China plays a major role in all our futures," Sellers told Xinhua.
Sellers also hopes his and the Institute's students will become enlightened cultural ambassadors.
"We have Chinese neighbors, friends, bankers, artists. Our cultures, our economies, our destinies are irrevocably intertwined. Young people get that, in spite of all the rhetoric and negativity they hear from Washington," he said.
On her working, Jain said, "I know how to produce special events, but I also understand academic rigor and how to bring the right people and organizations together to create something really special and great that speaks to people honestly."
But, the bread and butter of the Institute is still their Mandarin language programs.
"We've been criticized by some far-right Senators of being too close to China. That's ironic because our top priority has been to help under-privileged kids here in the U.S. get ahead," she said, adding they do that by supporting former President George W. Bush's Republican-sponsored critical language initiative that uses federal money to promote key foreign language classes in American schools and colleges, like Arabic, Korean, Hindi and Chinese.
"We're at the center of that effort," she noted.
Toward that end, UCLA Confucius Institute has helped weave an extensive network of community support and language programs in partnership with local private schools and the LA Unified School District to provide Mandarin classes taught by qualified Chinese language teachers. And it's paying off with a bounty of better-educated students with skills that can catapult them into jobs ahead of the pack.
"The U.S. and China will never really understand each other unless we study their language and culture and share experiences that build a foundation for dialogue and mutually understanding," Jain commented.
"Our countries are more similar than we realize: in the history of the world there has never been a country like the U.S. and there's never been a country like China. If we don't work together to fix the world's problems, they won't get fixed and that's dangerous for all of us," Sellers concluded.