by Pei Jianrong and Edna Alcantara
MERIDA, Mexico, April 9 (Xinhua) -- Since he learned Mandarin, Alejandro Gonzalez has become a key liaison between the company where he works and its Chinese suppliers.
Learning the language also earned him a scholarship to study in China, where he gained firsthand knowledge of the culture and customs of the Asian country.
"It's the best thing that has happened in my life, being able to cross these borders, being able to enter a world that was truly foreign to me," said the 23-year-old native of Merida, capital of Mexico's southeast Yucatan state.
Gonzalez works for Sistemas en Punto, a company that provides businesses with smart solutions for electronic payments, loyalty programs and other services. Thanks to his relationship with suppliers, the company plans to open an office in China.
Enrollment at schools that teach Mandarin shows increasingly that more Mexicans are opting to study Chinese as trade and business opportunities with China expand.
Gonzalez, who began to study Chinese four years ago, currently takes twice-weekly classes at the Confucius Institute of the Autonomous University of Yucatan (UADY) in downtown Merida.
Learning Mandarin well demands a lot of dedication and patience, he admits, but the benefits are what drive him, said Gonzalez, who hopes to one day move to China, a country "in expansion, a country full of culture, a country that I like."
While Gonzalez remains studious, it was a trip to China in 2017 that tested his language skills.
"Each student who had the opportunity to be there was really helped a lot to develop their linguistic abilities," said Gonzalez.
He acknowledges he still has some way to go before having "full command" of the language, enough to study a master's degree in international relations in China, for instance.
Merida's institute, one of three in Mexico that apply the HSK Chinese proficiency examination, opened in 2008. Currently it has up to 1,925 students in a variety of age groups, among them Rosa Pereira, a university professor in her 50s, enrolled in level 2.
Pereira also told Xinhua that students learn more than just the language at the institute.
"More than the language itself, they teach the culture," said Pereira, adding studies "are not based solely on what you can write, but on knowing the culture and its ideals, such as respect for the elderly, the festivities, which are so different, and even the importance of the color red."
Pereira also dreams of traveling to China one day.
To accommodate students like Pereira, who is more interested in learning about other aspects of China than in perfecting her language skills, the institute is offering twice weekly classes in Chinese culture for those 55 and older.
In its online social media accounts, the institute promotes the Monday and Thursday workshop on "Chinese culture and folk art" as a way to help others learn more about "the true essence" of Chinese society from Chinese instructors.
Merida's Confucius Institute notes interest in all its courses is on the rise, especially among government officials and local business owners hoping to establish closer ties with China.
"We have to help the brain stay active," said Pereira. "What's more, I want my children to follow my example -- to continue studying always, and what's better than Chinese?"