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The Confucius Institute is making an impact

August 2, 2016

Kung Fu Panda soars above the parade route.

The "Kung Fu Panda" balloon delighted the crowd at the 2016 500 Festival Parade in downtown Indianapolis. | PHOTO COURTESY OF THE CONFUCIUS INSTITUTE

Can an oversized balloon from the "Kung Fu Panda" movie franchise really highlight the importance of an academic collaboration based at IUPUI by soaring above the Indianapolis 500 Festival Parade?

In the case of the Confucius Institute, the answer appears to be a big "yes." But the balloon is just one of the unique things that sets the institute apart as it puts the finishing touches on its first decade in Indianapolis.

The institute was formed in 2007 when IUPUI and Sun Yat-sen University, a top-10 Chinese university in Guangzhou, a city in the southern China province of Guangdong, forged a partnership that is still making a difference in both countries. Like IUPUI, Sun Yat-sen is committed to the health and life sciences.

But that commitment isn't the only thing that links the two campuses. Study-abroad programs have changed the careers and international perspective of students from both IUPUI and Sun Yat-sen. It's a big reason that Ian McIntosh, the director of international partnerships for the Office of International Affairs and one of two associate directors of the institute, believes in the its role in the academic, economic, governmental and cultural life of Indianapolis.

"We have a large footprint," McIntosh said. "Our mandate is with the community as a whole, not just IUPUI. That helps the Confucius Institute make an impact throughout the city."

The institute has multiple goals:

  • Language training
  • Business relationships
  • Cultural awareness
  • International understanding between China and the U.S.
  • Government relationships and exchanges

Zao "Joe" Xu, the executive director of the institute, believes that building understanding between countries and cultures is a core mission for the Confucius Institute. To facilitate the institute's goals, Xu noted that each year, 15 IUPUI students study at Sun Yat-sen, along with up to four faculty and staff. In return, approximately 12 Sun Yat-sen medical students come to IUPUI to do clinical rotations.

"Those exchanges provide students with a unique global perspective, one that will be part of their careers," Xu said. The language training and business relationships that connect the U.S. and China are vital to the international goals of both countries. They can also forge relationships that last a lifetime.

The institute's history has been captured in a book entitled "A Journey to Remember," which traces the early years of the collaboration, from 2008 to 2013. The book highlights the impact the Confucius Institute has had on the IUPUI campus as well as individual students, residents and businesses throughout the city.

Copies of the book are available through the Confucius Institute library. McIntosh said another book assembled by Xu, "Chinese Hoosiers," offers an interesting tale in a timely way to help celebrate Indiana's state bicentennial.

"It features Chinese who study or live in Indiana and make significant contributions to the state and the world," Xu said. Copies of that book will be available through the institute in the coming weeks.

The Confucius Institute has made cultural contributions that have resonated in both China and the U.S. Chinese costumes, music and events are always a big hit during IUPUI's annual International Festival, and so is the institute's role in the 500 Festival Parade. This year, the "Kung Fu Panda" balloon represented the cultural role the institute plays in the community.

Similarly, the Confucius Institute provided support for the "Take me there: China" exhibit at The Children's Museum of Indianapolis, including staff expertise as interpreters of Chinese culture. The exhibit gives guests of all ages a glimpse of the lifestyles of modern-day Chinese families and a chance to experience the art, music, food and ancient medicine that are part of China's history.

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