Howard Schaefer

Aligning Principles

By Howard Schaefer

Last July my wife, Teresa taught in China for 2 weeks at Shaanxi Normal University (SNNU) in Xi’an, Shaanxi, China. Having learned about this opportunity from her friend, Victoria, Teresa was excited not only to explore China but for the opportunity to teach Chinese students in such a prestigious university. In sharing her SNNU teaching experiences with Teresa, Victoria described how her husband, who accompanied her in the prior year found the experience ‘life-changing.’

Teresa thought a ‘life-changing’ experience would be good for me. At that time, I was out of work, and Teresa wanted me to redirect my energies from simply searching for a job to fulfill a dream. Though I wanted to go, I was reluctant due to the cost and time. However, this was not the first time I was offered an opportunity to travel to China and I was intrigued by what seemed like a second chance. I was presented with the first opportunity as a 17-year-old Tai Chi student. Years later, I wondered how different my life would have been if I had traveled to China back then.

I started studying Tai Chi when I was 15, along with my older brother. I was my teachers youngest Tai Chi student. My teacher, Mr. Sidney Austin, beseeched my father to learn Tai Chi with my brother and me, stressing how good it would be for our family to learn together, in addition to the unrivaled health benefits. He offered to teach my father for free and my brother and I only needed to pay what we could afford. Such kindness. Such generosity. I learned so much from my teacher, money could never repay.

My brother and I studied diligently with Mr. Austin, 2 nights a week, and if our parents could drive us, Saturdays and Sundays too. During the summer, we frequently went to class twice a day, 4 days a week, and weekends whenever possible. As we improved our Tai Chi, we graduated into new found areas of pain.

In Mr. Austin’s school, a blackboard always included the tenet: Learn Kindness, Learn Generosity, Learn Kung-Fu. Mr. Austin had taught Kung-Fu for many years before he started studying Tai Chi with Master Jou Tsung Hwa. On Sundays, sometimes Mr. Austin would pick my brother and I up so we could study with Master Jou. Master Jou stressed a key principle, “To master Tai Chi, you know yourself.” During our 2nd year of Tai Chi, Master Jou arranged a trip to Taiwan for his students to study with Tai Chi masters. It would have taken all my savings, $5,500, to go, and at the time, I didn’t realize this would have been a small price to pay for such an insightful and personal experience.

In the years that ensued, I periodically lapsed out of and returned to Tai Chi practice many times. In retrospect, periods where I intently practiced Tai Chi corresponded with successes in creativity, learning, and performance.

As I contemplated the decision to travel with my wife, I wondered if traveling to China would put me back on the right path. Would my life be altered and how so? Each morning, at that crack of dawn, would I practice Tai Chi in a plaza with 100’s or even thousands of people? Would I start sketching and drawing? Would I know myself

With this in mind, along with a sharp drop in ticket prices, I decided to jump at the opportunity, and go to China. Upon purchasing my non-refundable ticket, I was instantly committed. In preparation for my travels, rather than planning to be a simple tourist, soaking in the sites, history, and culture, I endeavored to learn to speak Mandarin to further justify my travel. I found a few Ted Talks discussing Chinese culture, and a few more talking about rapidly learning to speak Chinese through immersion. In each of the Talks, the presenters talked about removing self-limiting boundaries and opening possibilities, as well as the honest and frank conversations they experienced with the Chinese people they met. Could I learn to speak Chinese? Could I learn to be frank and honest with myself? Could I exceed my boundaries?

For a few weeks, before we left, I started learning to speak Chinese. Luckily my library had an MP3 course in Mandarin, otherwise, I may have learned Cantonese instead. I completed 15 half hour lessons before we left for China. While in China, I found it a little difficult communicating in Chinese with my limited vocabulary. Luckily, I rarely had to rely on my minimal Mandarin speaking skills, as the Chinese people and I usually innovated some means of communication. Whenever we were unsure of our path, inevitably a kind stranger directed us on our journey, usually in English, but always understood.

In China, I was never able to get up early enough to beat the summer heat and practice Tai Chi. To my surprise, I never actually saw anyone practicing Tai Chi. Maybe my Tai Chi opportunities all occurred whilst I slept? I also anticipated sketching and drawing more and though we visited a few galleries in Xi’an exhibiting calligraphy, I only picked up a brush to draw in our final days in Beijing. I was first prompted by retirees. I watched the retirees practicing their calligraphy on cement patios in a park, using water as their medium, applied with long sponge-tipped brushes. Later that night, in another part of Beijing, an artist asked my wife and I to visit his studio/gallery. We were so tired after our earlier exhausting summertime trip to Badaling to see the Great Wall of China, but we acquiesced due to my artistic curiosity. Our artist host, upon learning that I previously studied art, set up brush and ink, inviting me to draw. I sketched the artist, and with a brush stroke, another obstacle was removed from my path.

In nearly all my interactions with the Chinese people in China, with or without verbal language, I felt I achieved a level of understanding. Maybe being juxtaposed in a completely foreign setting befitted me, requiring me to slow down, and capture each moment. This realization resonated with a lesson I learned from my Tai Chi teachers. Tai Chi is practiced slowly, thus enabling consideration of many possibilities. My Chinese travel experience taught me to contemplate the possibilities and to know myself.

Rachel Lietzow

Unexpected Opportunities

By Rachel Lietzow

My Hongkongese mother started me off on my Chinese learning path by teaching me Cantonese from childhood. One of my first foreign language fumbles happened when I was a toddler. I still hear about this story today—my mother chuckles when she describes how difficult it was to teach me how to say “bone” in Cantonese, pronounced gwat. Somehow my imitation came out as “brat.” She would tell me the proper way of saying “bone” each day until I could pronounce it. I never would have guessed that this was simply the beginning to my interest in foreign language. Fast-forward a decade, Cantonese had taken a special place in my life—it is not only my roots and memories but also my connection to my Hong Kong family.

My curiosity about Chinese culture grew further upon my introduction to Mandarin, which came through watching a Mandarin-dubbed historical Korean television series. Although I barely understood anything the first time hearing Mandarin, the interesting sounds of the language did not fail to inspire me. My young mind spiraled with questions—why do some Cantonese words bear no resemblance to the same words in Mandarin? Why are there two different systems of writing? What parts of the languages overlap? Not knowing any other way to answer these questions, I settled on trial-and-error. After about three years of watching television shows in Mandarin, I grew comfortable listening to Mandarin speakers. Unfortunately, my hometown did not offer many opportunities to meet them. I still was uncertain about my ability to speak the language myself.

Coming to the University of Kentucky in 2015, I quickly made many Chinese international friends. Through them, I found out about the Confucius Institute. They invited me to a Chinese New Year celebration hosted by the Confucius Institute, called “East Meets West,” a function that bridged cultural differences through performances of fashion, music, and dance. The atmosphere was one of excitement and anticipation. That evening, my pride in Chinese heritage was reinvigorated. I am extremely grateful that the Confucius Institute hosts so many events that teach Chinese culture—I had never expected to find pieces of China in Kentucky.

My next encounter with the Confucius Institute came when I was given the opportunity to represent the UK in the Chinese Bridge competition at the University of Maryland. Besides granting me the chance to see Washington D.C. for the first time, the Confucius Institute made it possible for me to meet passionate Chinese learners from across the nation. As a freshman, I had never participated in an event like this, so I initially did not know what to expect. The idea of having to memorize a speech and compete had scared me. However, everyone I met at the competition was extremely personable. We came from different backgrounds and learned Mandarin at different times and in different ways. A common interest in Chinese language and culture brought us together. The Chinese Bridge left me with many new friends and memories. This event not only displayed a talented group of Chinese learners but also presented many unique stories.

A few of the competitors described their experiences studying abroad in China. Their stories highlighted the abundance of learning opportunities in other countries and the wonderful memories that marked a new understanding of Chinese culture. These speeches particularly inspired me to study in China, which I did this past summer at Zhejiang University. My Mandarin has improved since, and I have met many friends from around the world in the process. Through its many opportunities, the Confucius Institute has impacted my understanding of China and has furthered my dreams.

Dennis Delehanty

To Learn Mandarin: A Personal Journey Through the Decades

By Dennis Delehanty

As a teenager in the 1960s, growing up in suburbs south of Boston, I fell under the grip of the tantalizing mysteries of the Chinese language. At home, I would leaf through weekly issues of Life and Look magazines and ponder the inscriptions on signs carried aloft by Chinese citizens. Someday, I told myself, I would uncover the meanings of those symbols.

So, entering college as a student of Russian (as well as French and Spanish), I resolved to take up the study of Mandarin. But my small college in Maine offered no courses in that language. Following graduation from college, undeterred, I enrolled in an evening course in Mandarin at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education near Harvard University, and thus launched a haphazard, often frustrating trajectory in the study of Chinese. That journey wound through George Washington and Georgetown universities, the State Department’s Foreign Language Institute’s early morning classes … then, after a 15-year hiatus, resumed in intensive tutoring classes in 1999 and later in independent study at George Mason University. If I had not learned to speak Chinese as fluently as I could in Western languages, at least I had taught myself to read Chinese, plowing through several longish 20th-century novels by such authors as Lu Xun, Ba Jin, Lao She, Shen Congwen, and Yu Hua.

From 1983 and through the ensuing decades, a dozen business trips to China punctuated my study of Mandarin and afforded practical linguistic encouragement for my further efforts to conquer that language. How that country transformed itself from the Mao jackets and bicycles of the early 1980s to the skyscrapers and sprawl of today!

My connection to China suddenly grew even stronger, when quite by accident my daughter Carmen took up the study of Chinese at Haverford College. After her graduation, the Confucius Institute awarded her a year-long scholarship to study the language at Beijing Language and Culture University, after which she remained in Beijing for three years, working for a company that helps Chinese high school students apply to top U.S. colleges and universities.

In 2012, I retired from the Department of State, winding up a 37-year-long career in government. Reflecting that I should find some way to show appreciation for the Confucius Institute’s generosity towards our family, I began to attend weekly presentations about Chinese affairs sponsored by George Mason’s Confucius Institute. By late 2014, this casual contact had led to the formation of a Chinese Reading Club at George Mason’s Confucius Institute, which by mid-2016 boasted of six experienced Chinese learners who could read and discuss difficult, highly literary shorter works of such esteemed Chinese authors as Mo Yan, Liu Zhenyun, Bi Feiyu and Su Tong. We suspect that this advanced Chinese Reading Group – whose members are not native speakers – may be unique within the United States. The challenges and joys (!) of our biweekly group meetings to decipher the cultural, linguistic and literary secrets of the short stories we read, in Chinese, under the expert guidance of our CI teachers He Xiao and Wang Lihong. have brought us to a deeper understanding of China and the Chinese mind through modern literature – even to those in our group who have lived and studied China and Chinese for decades.

I am personally grateful for the opportunity that the Confucius Institute has provided to advanced learners of Chinese in the Washington, D.C. area through the formation and support of our Reading Group. I can only suggest that the Confucius Institute at George Mason might consider promoting the model of this Reading Group to other Confucius Institutes in the United States and worldwide, as more and more Westerners embark on that wonderful voyage to learn the world’s most spoken (and read) language: Mandarin Chinese.

Deja Watkins


By Deja Watkins

I have been learning Chinese for a little over five years now. I started learning Chinese when I first entered Enloe High School and continued learning Chinese there until I graduated. I continued to take Chinese classes at my current university. I like learning about the cultures of others, and I wanted to learn about Chinese culture. Because of this interest, I was really excited to find out that the high school I was going to attend offered Chinese. It was through my Chinese class at Enloe that I learned about the Confucius Institute. There were resources and events in class that was provided by the Confucius Institute at North Carolina State University. For example, Chinese students from NC State who came by my high school classroom to give a presentation on China and their experiences being in the United States. I was able to speak with a couple of the students and learn more about them. I also participated in the Chinese club that was offered at Enloe. Through the Chinese club, and in class, I participated in various events and festivals such as the Mid-Autumn Festival. There were even days where my teacher brought in Chinese food for the class to try. I even began to participate in the annual Chinese New Year Festival in Raleigh, where I saw various cultural performances and many exhibits.

Through the Confucius Classroom at Enloe, I was able to travel to Troy University to participate in the StarTalk program. I participated in the StarTalk program for two summers and thoroughly enjoyed my time in the program. Through this, I was able to improve my Chinese speaking skills and learn more about Chinese culture. For example, I learned how to lion dance, dragon dance, and umbrella dance. I even learned how to do a little bit of Taiji. I met other students from different parts of the United States who had the same interest in Chinese as I did, which really helped me to learn Chinese culture and language skills that I did not know before. It was wonderful to even be able to learn other cultural activities from my teachers, such as calligraphy and Chinese chess. The Cultural Presentation, or Fashion Show, at the end of the program, was really interesting as everyone dressed up as one of the many minorities in China. Before then I had only heard of a few minorities such as Tibetan and Manchu, but during I learned about many others.

The Enloe Confucius Classroom, of the NCSU Confucius Institute, has changed my life in many ways. Before learning Chinese with the Confucius Classroom at Enloe, I only had knowledge about American culture. The Confucius Classroom has also helped me to prepare for college. When I entered college, I was able to connect with the Confucius Institute at my school and continue to build my knowledge of Chinese language and culture. The Confucius Classroom truly helped me start my education of Chinese culture and language as well as provided me resources as to what I can do to improve my abilities. I have connected with many people, including Chinese teachers and friends, whom I still continue to stay in touch with long after we parted ways to return back to our respective homes. I have met so many kind people who have been more than helpful and patient in teaching me Chinese. I honestly could not have asked for a better experience. Everyone I have met has been very respectful and eager to aid me in any way possible throughout my entire experience in learning Chinese. I happily look forward to improving my fluency in Chinese, participating in more activities and events, and continuing to be part of the Confucius Institute.

David Cole

More Similar than Different

By David Cole

I am not a student of language, nor am I particularly adept at comprehending or learning foreign languages. I am, however, an ardent student of culture and art. It was through a humanities-based fellowship at the University of Kentucky that I was introduced to our Confucius Institute and the opportunity to undertake a learning experience in Shanghai, Xi’an, and Beijing.

As an American, my knowledge of Chinese art and literature is woefully underdeveloped. For years I have been exposed to the stories of the great masters in the European and American traditions, but never have I encountered Chinese writing outside of Wu Cheng’en’s Journey to the West. I understand that this is akin to someone being unfamiliar with European writing outside of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and am thankful that I’ve been able to begin remedying my situation. During my visit to China, I was introduced to the work of Lu Xun and Bei Dao, writers I am looking forward to pursuing study of as I seek to improve my literacy of writers and poets outside of the American canon.

Though this brief foray into the incredibly deep cultural pool that is Chinese literature stands out as a course to follow in my coming days, I must also give credence to the ways in which the trip shaped me during its course.

I had never been outside of my home country before traveling to China but had long harbored dreams of globetrotting. Arriving in China was tiring and I was completely awash in culture shock. I’d expected differences, of course, but being on the opposite side of the globe opened my eyes to not just the range of differences between Chinese culture and my own, but the striking similarities.

Those similarities came, without fail, through my interactions with people.

An astonishing number of people I interacted with in China proved positive in their spirit and livelihood. Never have I found myself surrounded by people who I couldn’t verbally understand, but wholeheartedly felt a connection towards.

Here is an anecdote to prove my point:

When my group made it to the City Wall in Xi’an, many people were excited by the chance to ride around its perimeter on bikes. However, I come from an area in which biking is uncommon due to the terrain, therefore, I had never learned to ride one myself. Feeling adventurous, I rented one anyway and received some beginner’s tips from two of my fellows. However, when they took off on their own and I was left to stutter about on my bike as if I were a toddler. As I experienced this embarrassment, a Chinese family of four approached me and began to demonstrate to me, through gestures and sound effects, the proper way to ride. My trouble continued, but their kindness was powerful. In time, another couple joined us and I found myself surrounded by six locals all trying to teach me how this whole biking thing worked.

I still don’t know how to ride a bike, but that period of time atop the old wall in Xi’an gave me something more valuable than a timeless skill: a true sense of the universal nature of humanity. I could not previously imagine the strength of human kinship, even in the face of a daunting language barrier, before the Confucius Institute sent me to China. For the opportunity to witness firsthand the indomitable strength of personal bonds across cultures, I am certainly indebted and immensely thankful.

Amelia AiYan Engstrom

My Mandarin Journey

By Amelia AiYan Engstrom

I was born in Fuling, China. Chinese was the only language I knew. Twelve months after I was born, I was adopted by two Americans who spoke a language that was foreign. They brought me back to America where their language became familiar to me.

Four years later, I was a timid kindergartener sitting at a small desk waiting patiently for class to start. I was unaware that the class I was about to attend would be life-changing. As the teacher began to speak, I started to hear words that were alien, but beautiful. It was like hearing spoken music. I soon found out that those strange words are part of a language called Mandarin Chinese. That was the spark that ignited the blazing passion I have for Chinese. As time went on, I learned more about the language itself as well as Chinese culture.

I vividly remember my first Moon Festival. I sat on a blanket on the wet grass in my mother’s lap surrounded by my family and many school friends. The erhu was being played in the background as we all ate mooncakes, watched the moon rise, and enjoyed each other’s presence. Children danced around with glow sticks and waved homemade lanterns. The night would have been pitch black if not for the shining beacon that was the moon. My kindergarten class had just finished performing a song about the Moon Festival that was composed by our teacher. That night was not just about lanterns and festivities, but about the importance of family.

Since I attended a Mandarin immersion program in a Confucius Classroom, I had the opportunity to increase my skills and knowledge every day. I looked forward to learning more about Chinese culture. My favorite parts were baking mooncakes, making dumplings, and folding origami.

When I was in third grade, our class wanted to do something big for Chinese New Year. We decided to do a presentation in front of the whole school. It would have music, dancing, and, most importantly, dragons! There would be two different dragons, one for each side of the auditorium. They would start in the very back row and snake their way through the aisles up onto the stage. I was a shy, quiet kid, but I was chosen to be the head of the dragon. The head of the dragon needs to be exciting; the performer shakes the head in people’s faces and moves up and down. The head leads the rest of the body. This was an experience of a lifetime. I had a blast learning how to move the dragon around. Not only did I have fun and learn more about Chinese culture, but it also forced me to leave my comfort zone and be a leader.

I switched to a different school for junior high and with the new school came a new Confucius Classroom. My new teacher took us to Chinatown in San Francisco for the annual New Year’s Parade. It was amazing to experience the culture in person instead of from a textbook. We were sent into Chinatown with a list of things to find for a scavenger hunt. This gave us a reason to talk to the street shop owners and use our language skills. The town was decorated festively with lanterns and even a statue of Monkey King (孙悟空). I especially liked throwing poppers on the ground and surprising everyone around me. We also toured the Asian Art Museum and expanded our knowledge of Chinese art. When it came time for the parade, my classmates and I sat enthusiastically on the edge of the sidewalk munching on goodies we had just bought in Chinatown. The parade was great! All the floats were lavishly adorned, the bands played fun songs, and the firecrackers were a bundle of exhilaration. Not only has Chinese class been my passion, but it has also opened doors to new adventures.

As time went on, my Chinese journey began to feel like a roller coaster. Sometimes I would be at the peak, fully immersed in the culture and loving life. I would race to class ready to learn about the culture of my past. Other times I would be at the bottom of a hill. I would be mad at my parents for making me take such a difficult language. But, at the end of the day, I have always come back around. Mandarin has been a part of my life for so long that I am not sure what I would do without it. It has not only taught me about other cultures but also about core values like perseverance, hard work, and leadership. Mandarin Chinese has connected me with my past, improved my present, and paved the way for my future.



Ose Arheghan

Thank you, Confucius

By Ose Arheghan

In the last five years, I have moved three times, been in three different schools and two different school districts but throughout all of these changes, my study of Chinese has remained constant. In every Chinese class I have been in, no matter the district, the school or the teacher, the Confucius Institute’s Confucius Festival has been considered to be a beneficial experience for the students and for that, I am thankful. I performed with my class for the first time two years ago but this year, I did that and more.

As a junior in Mandarin IV, my class has the highest level of proficiency in the school. Because of this, we were responsible for producing our school’s performance for the festival. My teacher gave me the privilege of coming up with the concept and theme, along with directing our play. I was extremely excited because the Confucius Festival is how all the Chinese classes in the Cleveland area see what other students are learning and it gave my Chinese-learning friends from other schools the opportunity to see my work on stage. Because my classmates and I collectively love the music from the 2008 Beijing Olympics, I decided we would recreate that moment on stage. We all represented different athletes and performed a closing ceremony skit where students gave speeches, showed off Olympic medals, sang and danced— all in Chinese.

When it got to the day of the performance, we were all excited, and nervous. None of us are actors (to be honest, we’re a bunch of nerds) but we all enjoy leaving our comfort zones each year for the festival performance. I was really happy because I got to learn more about my peers and highlight everyone’s strengths. The strong speakers delivered short monologues, the more artistically inclined students did a dance and the tech-savvy students made a PowerPoint which we played in the background. Our class really bonded over the whole experience and I get to say that I had a part in making it happen.

Recently, we had exchange students visit from our sister school in Hebei and my teacher showed them our Confucius Festival performance. Some of the students came up to me after watching my introduction and told me my Chinese speaking was very good. I was so excited to see that they enjoyed our performance because I felt like as a class, we put on a show that really displayed Chinese culture and our speaking abilities.

I remember when I was 11 years old at my first Confucius Festival and I did not have the language proficiency to comprehend most of the dialogue and jokes or the cultural awareness to recognize any of the stories and songs. I can look back on that moment and compare it to now as I perform skits in Mandarin, talk to Chinese students about jokes that do not quite translate to English and talk to my friends about our favorite Chinese songs and foods. Each October it is nice to go down to Cleveland State and see how much more information I can ascertain. I was excited this year because I recognized a lot of the stories the elementary students acted out. Most notably, a group of children acted out the race to determine the 12 Chinese zodiac animals and I remember translating that story into English in my class.

Next year, my senior year will be my final Confucius Festival before I go off to university. I am excited to be able to end my secondary school Chinese learning experience at the same event where I began. When I go to university I hope to study International Relations and plan to continue learning Mandarin. I believe that my middle school and high school experience as a part of a Confucius Classroom will give me an advantage in my language acquisition.

Monika Hoffarth-Zelloe

My Confucius Family

By Monika Hoffarth-Zelloe

It all started years ago, when my six-year-old son, Alexander, announced that he was going to build a bridge to China with Lego blocks. Eight years later, he started to study Chinese in a Confucius Classroom at his Jesuit high school. Fate determined that I was going to become best friends with his Chinese teacher. I started to volunteer in the classroom and I soon found myself chaperoning forty-three high school kids on a two-week summer tour to China. This Hanban-sponsored trip, called the “Chinese Bridge Summer Camp for American High School Students,” was not only an eye-opener for me into an unknown world, but the kindling for my fire and passion for 中国 zhong guo and 中国人 zhong guo ren.

Never had I felt such a deep fascination, curiosity and eagerness to learn more about a country’s culture and history.

I had explored half the world prior to my first journey to China, but never had I felt such a deep fascination, curiosity, and eagerness to learn more about a country’s culture and history. Not only did I visit the highlights of Beijing, climb the Great Wall, observe the acrobats practicing for the Asian Olympics, wander around the Longman Caves, and attend an incredible outdoor musical performance in the mountains near Shaolin, but I also formed many friendships with my Chinese teachers during our stay at a provincial high school.

I then debated attending Chinese language classes at the Confucius Institute at George Mason University. After all, I was approaching half a century in age – the perfect time for my brain to entertain something totally new and challenging. From the roughly 6,500 spoken languages in the world today, I had only mastered six. Learning Mandarin Chinese, the most widely-spoken language in the world, seemed to make sense. Or was I too old for such a difficult task? I decided to give it a try, determined to 学习普通话 xuexi putonghua, and signed up for my first Chinese language class at “CIMason”. That was one of the best decisions I ever made. After seven years, I am still attending Chinese classes on Thursdays. I know every single teacher who has taught there since 2009 and last summer, during another visit to China for a high-level delegation of cultural educators from Washington, DC, and Virginia, I met all of my instructors again. That night’s reunion, when all my previous teachers came to greet us after arriving in Beijing, brought tears to my eyes and made me realize how fond I had become of my Chinese friends.

Once I joined the Confucius family, my daily life seemed to always involve China, the Chinese culture, or the Chinese language in some way. Every book I suggested to my book club, fiction or non-fiction, was set in Asia. I decorated my entrance-way with Chinese artifacts, listened to music from Chinese CDs that I had brought back from my trips, and pulled out my 旗袍 qipao for every fancy event that I attended. I also decided to intertwine my cultural work at the German Goethe-Institut with my new knowledge of China. I became part of the “Trialogue” project and a poetry event named “Time Shadows,” in which we presented poems in German, English and Chinese. I became a moderator at the Euro-Asia film festivals in Washington, DC, where I discussed German and Chinese short films together with my Confucius colleagues and friends. I was invited to Michelle Obama’s “100,000 Strong Initiative” talk, the 2012 National Chinese Language Conference in Washington, DC, cultural workshops to learn Chinese calligraphy and how to play mahjong, lessons on using “WeChat” to stay in touch with my Confucius friends, and even my teacher’s apartment to make 饺子 jiao zi.

However, these rich activities still left me yearning for something more. I decided to volunteer for CIMason. I joined the CI staff on “Chinese Culture Days” at local high schools, promoted CIMason in a video clip on their website, and participated in the “Traveling Trunk Chinese Artifact Kit Project.” I hosted several teachers at my house, attended memorable visits with Madame Xu Lin, former Director General of Hanban, and Madame Yan Junqi, helped to organize the “China in my Eyes” Photography Exhibitions in 2013, and, recently, curated the revival of the “China in my Eyes” exhibit in Alexandria, VA. As a supporter of CIMason, I found myself serving as the bridge connecting China and the USA, exposing Chinese culture to wide audiences, and teaching people the value other cultures can bring to their lives. I am the product of my son’s childhood wish to build a bridge to China.

After my second Chinese Bridge summer study trip to China in 2011, my whole family started to study Chinese. My daughter joined in on our family’s fascination with China and enrolled in Chinese classes at her local high school and again in college. Following Confucius’ motto, “Never be tired of learning or teaching others,” I convinced my husband to join us and take Chinese lessons and take a Chinese business class at CIMason. A few weeks later, reporters from Xinhua/New China News Agency requested a family interview to talk about our family’s unusual passion and interest for the Chinese language and culture. Shortly afterwards, our son embarked on another journey to China on a scholarship from George Mason University. He has now been to Asia seven times and he has declared China his favorite destination.

My dream to enjoy a symphony of cultures, while promoting and celebrating cultural diversity, has been fulfilled.

As you can see, our story is a story of chain reactions. None of this would have ever happened had it not been for the opening of a Confucius Classroom at Gonzaga High School. This triggered one event after another. Each of us became an active participant in the complex world of cultural diplomacy. As the U.S. Ambassador to Russia said, “Culture does things that traditional diplomacy can’t.” My academic background of cultural studies and foreign languages allowed me to participate in many cultural exchange programs where I learned the value in promoting cross-cultural understanding and dispelling stereotypes. My dream to enjoy a symphony of cultures, while promoting and celebrating cultural diversity, has been fulfilled through this connection with my Confucius family. It has been exactly eight years since our two worlds began to merge. Since 8, or 八ba, is a lucky number in the Chinese culture, I conclude my eight years of study is a good sign that I will be fortunate in the future and have many more opportunities to traverse the “bridge” of my son’s dream. My bridge was not built by Legos but with the love of our CI family, my work as a private American and German cultural ambassador, and the time I gave to contribute to the Confucius Institute’s mission of promoting cultural understanding and building pivotal friendships.

Monika Hoffarth-Zelloe


Confucius Institute at George Mason University
Foreign Language Professor | Washington, DC

Dr. Monika Hoffarth-Zelloe has been a foreign language professor for more than two decades. She received her Ph.D. in Foreign Language Teaching from the University of Würzburg, Germany, in 1988, and is currently a German Language Proficiency Examiner at the Goethe-Institut Washington. She has traveled to all seven continents. After her first trip to China in 2010, Dr. Hoffarth-Zelloe decided to study Chinese (Mandarin) as her seventh foreign language at the Confucius Institute at George Mason University.

Since then, she has dedicated much of her time to the Institute, facilitating positive dialogue between China and the United States. Dr. Hoffarth-Zelloe also works as a cross-cultural outreach consultant and is incredibly passionate about cultural exchange between people of different countries.

Douglas McDonald

Language of the Heart

By Douglas McDonald

A very old proverb teaches: “The mouth speaks what is in the heart.” My interpretation of that proverb is that language expresses the soul and spirit of a people. For that reason, I have always had a special inclination for languages. I have studied ancient Greek and Latin; modern French and German; I have had the opportunity to learn Arabic while teaching university students in Baghdad, Iraq. Through these experiences, I have come to appreciate how a culture and its people open up when you understand its language. For me, Chinese has been the pinnacle of language learning. It is ancient, vividly expressive, and spoken by more than one and one-half billion people.

I have come to appreciate how a culture and its people open up when you understand its language.

My first contact with the Confucius Institute was somewhat tangential. I took a two-part course through the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Massachusetts-Boston, taught by Wanli Hu, Ph.D., comparing Massachusetts as the cradle of American values, education, and skills with Xi’an, the birthplace of Chinese civilization. Through Dr. Hu, I learned not only about the great history of Chinese culture, but also that the Confucius Institute had courses for people interested in learning the Chinese language.

At first, I was excited about the prospect; then I considered the challenge and commitment that was necessary to learn a new language and whether I was really up to the task. My actual engagement with the Confucius Institute began in January 2018.

The Confucius Institute offers a welcoming and supportive introduction to China, its history, culture, traditions, and language. My teacher, Lu Zhiying, (“Lu Lāoshì” as I call her,) has been enthusiastic, encouraging, and very patient. She has high expectations for my ability to learn Mandarin at the highest level, including learning Chinese characters.

Lu Zhiying has broadened my involvement in the Confucius Institute and Chinese culture. After just one month as a student, she asked me to help out with the Institute’s upcoming New Year celebration taking place at UMass Boston. I am often glad to help out setting up chairs, posting signs, handing out flyers, etc. “I want you to teach people who come to the celebration to make Chinese knots,” Lu Laoshi said. “And bring your wife, Linda.” Of, course I didn’t know what a Chinese knot was, nor how to make one! She showed me how to make one, gave me some threads, and said, “Practice.”

Needless to say, when the New Year celebration took place two weeks later, dozens and dozens of people, as young as six-years-old, and many much older than that became enthusiastic learners and owners of New Year good luck knots.

The Confucius Institute offers a welcoming and supportive introduction to China, its history, culture, traditions, and language.

The celebration program was so much more. It opened my eyes to the vast network of programs and participants in the Greater Boston area supported by the Confucius Institute. I met Grade 6 students who, like me, were beginning to study Mandarin. Since I had been a Chinese-language learner for just four weeks, I felt emboldened to utter such great phrases as “Ní hao”, “Ní hao ma?”, and “xièxie”!

During the program, I saw a CI student who had only nine classes stand on stage in front of nearly two hundred people, and recite a simple poem in Mandarin before a largely Chinese audience. Two other CI students performed a song. What encouragement and motivation!

The program put on that day by the Confucius Institute was a panoply of Chinese poetry, dance, music, and culture performed by students and professionals from many communities and nationalities celebrating Chinese culture and civilization.
Some people say the time to learn a language is when you are young. There is certainly merit to that statement, and I certainly encourage learning a language early. But I am seventy-five years old, and regrettably, cannot turn back the hands of time. However, when I knocked on the door of the Confucius Institute at UMass Boston and said I was interested in learning Chinese, no one said: “You’re too old,” but only “When would you like to start?”

When I said I was interested in learning Chinese, no one said: “You’re too old,” but only “When would you like to start?”

While my goals and story are personal, I do believe that my example will encourage others to begin the process of exploring a culture that is the four-thousand-year foundation of 1.5 billion people in today’s world, and the world of the future. I live in a community that has a rapidly growing Chinese population, so there is increasing opportunity to use my new language skill, and hopefully, our new neighbors will feel more welcomed to know that a person not of their culture appreciates them enough to learn and cherish its language. The language of the Confucius Institute is “Welcome!”

Douglas McDonald


Confucius Institute at UMass Boston
Retired Administrative Judge | Boston, Massachusetts

Douglas McDonald is a retired administrative judge from Boston, MA who has recently joined the Confucius Institute at the University of Massachusetts-Boston to tackle yet another language.

A life-long polyglot, Doug is proficient in several languages, including Latin, Greek, French, and German. For two years he lived in Baghdad, Iraq, where he taught sociology at Al-Hikma University, and studied Arabic. Doug believes that learning a language is critical to understanding a culture. He has been heavily involved in his Confucius Institute, attending the 2018 National Chinese Language Conference in Salt Lake City, UT, and several other local CI initiatives. Learning and becoming proficient in Mandarin has been a lifelong ambition for Doug, and the Confucius Institute at UMass Boston is providing a solid foundation.

Trinity Lewis

How Chinese Changed My Life

By Trinity Lewis

Before I tell a story about the present, I should start by explaining what happened in the past. I have what the doctors and scientists call “dyslexia.” It makes it hard for me to learn, and it makes it hard to memorize basic everyday words and numbers. I know this does not sound like it fits into a story about Chinese, but just stay with me. I have two siblings; one of them is my older brother, Mark. He excels in everything he does no matter how new or complicated it is to him. Now, I also have a younger sister; she is a national volleyball player who is getting scouted by all kinds of different teams. After hearing all of that, I hope you can see the story is going to be a little emotional from here on out.

Dyslexia makes it hard for me to learn, and it makes it hard to memorize basic everyday words and numbers.

It was my first day of freshmen year, and I was walking to my second-hour class, Chinese. For most schools, their teachers would be there to greet the students on the first day of school. However, in our school, that was not the case. We walked into class to find a television sitting in the middle of the room. We all sat down with a look of curiosity and deliberated over what was going to happen. Five minutes after the bell rang, the teacher got up and told us our teacher was now ready for us and went down to take the remote. We were all looking around at each other and trying to figure out what was going on. When he turned on the television, a face popped up like it does in the movies. There was a girl on the other side facing us with a straight face who said, “Today I am going to give you all new names for this class.” We were all excited to find out what our names were going to be, and she went through the list one by one telling us what our names were and what they meant. When she got to me, she told me my name was TiNe and went on to say that my name had no meaning; it was just the way my name would sound in Chinese. We went through the school year learning only the pinyin of Chinese and never really seeing the characters to the words we were learning. We played all sorts of games to try and learn the language, but it never really connected to us as time went by. It was like we weren’t seeing the real China, and we were just there to get our class credit and go, even though some of us really wanted to learn Chinese.

The school year was closing to an end, and our teacher told us that she would not be coming back next year. She said our new teacher was coming from China! For me, this was a shock because I did not join Chinese to just learn some pinyin and receive class credit. I was there because I knew I was never going to understand English, even if it was my own language. I had a chance with Chinese to really understand a language and thrive. I was told I was good at grammar and sentence structure, I was so happy to get commended for it. I had never been told in any of my English classes, or other classes, that I was good at English. Though in my Chinese classes, my teacher was so surprised at how well I was getting the language. I was starting to regain hope for myself that I had lost way back in elementary school and this hope I found in Chinese.

Now, let us fast forward to my sophomore year, I walked into my new Chinese class thinking that we were going to have another teacher through the television but was startled to see a teacher come out and say 你好 to me. I was so startled she laughed at me and said, “Hello? I said hello just now.” I could feel from that point on we were going to have a great year. After the first month, we started to ask her questions about how she got here and why she wanted to come. She said, “I came through the Confucius Institute, and I wanted to learn better English.” We asked her more and more questions, overwhelming her to the point she had to tell us to give her a break. For me, it is and was hard to trust teachers because of how badly I have been treated by them. I had a teacher in fourth grade try to bid me off to a kindergarten teacher because she didn’t want to teach me any longer. I get told by teachers now that everything I am and everything I can do is not because of my own effort, it’s because of my parents. My mom works at my school, so the teachers here think that I just use her to get away with whatever they think I could do. I have been told by my teachers that they wish I was a little more like my brother in my grades and outstanding ability. This teacher, however, has never treated me with any distance and never thought that I only got here because of my mom. She gave me a new Chinese name that she thought really fits me in my life 李锐 lǐ ruì.

I knew I was never going to understand English, even if it was my own language. I had a chance with Chinese…

The next day I went in and asked her whether we could get pen pals from China. She did not know what they were at first, but when we explained it to her, she said, “Maybe,” which in any kid’s head means “No” more than it will ever mean “Yes.” I am very hard to turn away though, I asked her, again and again, every day until one day she said, “I will talk about it today in class.” We were all so excited to find out that we were going to get a pen pal and we could not wait to get our first letter from them. It was about five days after she told us about the letters that she came into our class and said, “I have your pen pal letters.” At the time, we were not assigned a person, and we were given a person as we walked in. My teacher stopped me as I was walking in; she said, “I know you are very excited about pen pals, so I wanted to give you two of them.” I was so happy; I jumped and hugged her and asked, “Who are my pen pals?” She gave me two people, explaining, “You get a girl and a boy to write to, so you get two different points of views on China.” I wanted more pen pals because I love talking to people and I wanted to know more about a country that I had only heard speculations about before I entered the class. When I received the letters and opened them I was surprised at how sloppy their writing was. When I showed my teacher, she looked at them, laughed and said, “They wrote in cursive, I guess they forgot that you are a second-year Chinese student.” We then went through them and I realized these students were living lives so much like mine. Moreover, they were having fun at school all day. I had heard that in China people were not happy and were suffering because of the President there, but in these letters, they seemed to be living full and happy lives without a care in the world.

They gave me hope that I can learn this language and go there to have a great time and a great life. The people who are teaching me Chinese never told me that I was just lucky to get my grade in their class. Here, I have people who think I am so much more than just a dyslexic person. I now want to come to school more because of how I am getting treated by them. Chinese changed my life because it gave me hope that I had lost so long ago. People from China that are teaching me Chinese are so much more than teachers – they are friends that I will always remember my adventures, as I grow and learn more in my life.

Trinity Lewis


Confucius Institute at The University of Nebraska-Lincoln
High School Junior | Omaha, Nebraska

Trinity Lewis, 16 years old, attends Omaha Northwest High Magnet School.

She has studied and admired Chinese culture for most of her life and seeks to be fluent in Mandarin Chinese before her scheduled trip to China next year with the Confucius Institute at The University of Nebraska. Trinity is a second-degree black belt in Taekwondo, practicing the art since she was 6 years old. She is also an accomplished clarinet player, performing with many honor bands and receiving multiple All-City awards. Trinity is president of her high school DECA club and is a candidate for state leadership. She is a member of the student council as we as a member of the National Honor Society. Recently, Trinity was accepted into the world-recognized Henry Dorley Zoo Academy, where she will attend classes and work hand-in-hand with zoo officials to protect and preserve endangered wildlife. She plans to use the years of wildlife training to assist Chinese zoos and wildlife preserves in finding a way to save species, such as the Leaf Turtle, from extinction.