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Introduction to My Confucius Institute Story Compilation

In 2019, the UB Confucius Institute invited students who have been involved in our programs to submit essays about their Chinese language learning experience and the impact it has had on their lives and educations. The Confucius Institute published these essays in a collection entitled My Confucius Institute Story.

The following post is the introduction to the essay collection by Bruce Acker, UB Confucius Institute associate director.

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Work at Confucius Institute Brings Professional Growth, Personal Rewards
Bruce Acker, Associate Director

My Confucius Institute story is, not surprisingly, fundamentally tied to my current position as associate director of the University at Buffalo Confucius Institute, where our work is enormously rewarding, exceptionally interesting, and occasionally quite challenging.

We often talk about the impact of the Confucius Institute in terms numbers of participants, and those numbers are definitely impressive. Since 2009, more than 100,000 students, educators, and others at UB and in the Buffalo area have benefitted from participation in Confucius Institute language classes, scholarly activity, exchange programs, and cultural events. These programs are engaging and empowering for the individuals involved and for our community as a whole.

Yet for me, the impact of the Confucius Institute is most profound when I hear the stories of students who have been inspired by participation in Confucius Institute programs to make dramatic strides in language ability, learn new performance techniques, or gain new insights about China or about themselves through study abroad or engagement locally with people of Chinese heritage.

In that light, it has been very gratifying to read and compile the current collection of essays. Some of the essays published here are by students who were first introduced to China in a Confucius Institute class. Others were written by students with previous experience learning Chinese or working in China who came to the Confucius Institute to improve their language skills or participate in study abroad programs. From students in elementary school to university students to retired engineers and teachers, their life experiences and engagement with the Confucius Institute reflect the very broad spectrum of people who benefit from our work. Their stories are representative of many others who have learned, performed, competed, traveled, or otherwise been engaged in Confucius Institute programs.

My own CI story actually starts several years before I became an employee of the Confucius Institute, not long after I came to UB in 2008 as assistant director of Asian Studies. Working with then-director of Asian Studies Kristin Stapleton, I helped to prepare the proposal that resulted in the establishment of the UB Confucius Institute. In 2009, before UB had hired staff for the Confucius Institute, I was asked to attend the annual Confucius Institute Global Conference in Beijing, an extraordinary experience for a first-time traveler to China. Prior to the conference, I spent a few very productive and pleasant days meeting and exploring Beijing with our Confucius Institute partners at Capital Normal University (CNU).

The partnership with CNU has been a particularly gratifying part of my involvement with the Confucius Institute. From the very beginning, CNU deans, faculty and staff have been enormously helpful in implementing Confucius Institute programs, and in particular programs for Buffalo students and educators in China and for CNU student groups performing in Buffalo.

The visiting professors from CNU who have come to UB under the auspices of the Confucius Institute have been exceptionally effective and supportive. Their advice about how things work in China and about what visiting Confucius Institute teachers are experiencing when they come to live and teach in the United States has been invaluable. On top of that, they are tremendously engaging, interesting, and friendly. We never run out of things to talk about.

Each time I go to China, it seems like I come back with a new favorite city. Everywhere I travel, people are earnest, helpful, and hardworking; but each city has its own history, distinctive character, and unique traditions. China is far from monolithic. And I always look forward to a visit to Beijing and CNU, where I now I have a very familiar place to stay and wonderful people to greet me when I arrive. I look forward to it eagerly each time.

Through my involvement at the Confucius Institute, I have learned an enormous amount from many people about China, university administration, and cross-cultural communication. Although I could find my way to the office each day, I would otherwise be quite lost in this work without the advice and guidance of the following people: from CNU, Deans Xiaotian Liu, Mei Han, and Lihua Wang, and past and current UB Confucius Institute associate directors Xiaopeng (Peggy) Du, Qiaomei (Maggie) Lu, and Huadong (Mark) Yin; from the UB Office of International Education, Vice Provost Emeritus Stephen Dunnett, Interim Vice Provost John Wood, Associate Vice Provost Joe Hindrawan, and Associate Vice Provost Oscar Budde; and most importantly, at the Confucius Institute, past and current Confucius Institute Directors Kristin Stapleton, Jiyuan Yu, and Zhiqiang Liu.

I hope you take time to read the following essays and get a sense of the students’ enthusiasm for learning Chinese language, experiencing Chinese culture, and traveling in China. Despite the daily barrage of negative press about China and U.S.-China relations and undeniable problems, it’s worthwhile and important to remember that learning Chinese is rewarding, studying Chinese history and society is fascinating, and experiencing China and Chinese culture is exciting—no matter your age.

Author’s Note: I have been pondering this essay in light of the COVID-19 pandemic that first appeared in Wuhan in December 2019. The incredibly-trying events of the past six months have not changed my views expressed above. Learning Chinese is no less rewarding or valuable, and studying Chinese history, society and culture is no less fascinating. If anything, these endeavors are more important than ever. 

Read the collection of essays in My Confucius Institute Story