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Local Students Earn Top Honors in Great Lakes Chinese Competition

With the cancellation of in-person competitions due to the pandemic, Buffalo-area students of Chinese language had the opportunity to show off their skills in a virtual Chinese Speech and Talent Video Competition organized by the Great Lakes Chinese Consortium. The fall 2020 event replaced competitions previously organized locally by university-based Confucius Institutes and regionally by the Confucius Institute at UMass-Boston and the Chinese Consulate in New York City.

For this virtual competition, students could submit a video for either the speech or talent competition or enter both categories simultaneously. The competition included 10 divisions, from beginner to advanced Chinese language for middle school, high school, immersion school and heritage learners. Students from throughout the Great Lakes region submitted a total of 135 videos: 93 for the speech competition and 42 for the talent competition.

Three students from Buffalo-area schools received high awards for their contest submissions: Nichols student Yamato Takabe earned 2nd place in the high school speech contest, advanced division; City Honors student Liam Dell earned 3rd place, also in the high school speech contest, advanced division; and Saint Joseph’s Collegiate Institute student Eric Aquilina was awarded 2nd place in the high school talent competition in Division C (less than 4 years of language study).

Takabe, of Clarence, NY, is currently a junior at Nichols School. He has been studying Chinese for six years, first with middle school teacher Yan Rong and more recently with high school teacher Yajie Zhang.

Dell, a native of Buffalo, NY, is a senior at City Honors School. He has been studying Chinese for five years with middle school teacher Qianwen Lu and high school teacher Shue Zheng. Regarding his motivation for studying Chinese, Dell said, “Learning Chinese has helped me open a window facing east. My goal is to become a bridge between China and the United States.”

Aquilina, of Amherst, NY, is in his third year of Chinese language study as a junior at St. Joe’s. He has studied with Confucius Institute guest Chinese language teachers Zhicui Qi and Hongyan Gao. For the competition, he played the popular Chinese song Jasmine Flower (茉莉花) on the Chinese guzheng.

Aquilina said, “My experience with the guzheng was very short. A few weeks before the competition, Ms. Gao brought in her guzheng for us to see for educational purposes, and when I began to play around with it, she decided that I would play it for the competition, as my previous idea was to play the same piece, but on piano. So in the very short amount of time in the couple of days leading up to the submission date, I practiced that piece on the guzheng.”

In a similar virtual speech competition held in summer 2020, Steven J. Hall, a senior at Nichols School, received the Excellence Award (3rd place) for his participation in the 13th annual “Chinese Bridge” Chinese Proficiency Competition for High School Students, Eastern U.S. Region, organized by the Education Office of the Consulate General of the People’s Republic of China in New York. Hall has taken Chinese at Nichols for seven years with teachers Rong Yan and Yajie Zhang.

The Great Lakes Chinese Consortium was established during the COVID-19 pandemic so members could share resources for online lectures, competitions and other virtual events. Consortium members include Confucius Institutes and related centers at Cleveland State University, University of Toledo, Michigan State University, Western Michigan University, Wayne State University, St. Cloud State University and the University at Buffalo.

Zhiqiang Liu, PhD, UB professor of economics and director of the UB Confucius Institute, said, “The UB Confucius Institute congratulates these exceptional students from Nichols, City Honors and St. Joe’s for their outstanding performance in this year’s competition. We also thank our partners in the Great Lakes Chinese Consortium for their initiative on this speech contest and look forward to collaborating with them further as we expand our audience and strengthen our online presence.”