Celebrating Your Stories, Cultivating a Community

Every year, the Confucius Institute U.S. Center recognizes ten outstanding Chinese language and culture students from across the United States for their outstanding dedication to Chinese language and cultural education. These People-to-People Award Honorees are selected through the CIUS Center’s annual essay contest, and this year’s collection of stories truly represents the value and impact of Chinese language and culture from a variety of perspectives.

These 10 stellar students truly represent the diversity found within Chinese language and culture education. While we are unable to celebrate in person at our annual National Honors Gala, this Honoree Celebration is an opportunity to gather virtually and celebrate the outstanding dedication of our honorees to US-China mutual understanding.

Thank you to friends and family of our honorees along with our community of Chinese language and culture educators, advocates, and supporters who participated!

Meet the 2021 Honorees

Ariella Poon

Ariella lives in Austin with her sister, Eden and parents, Jason & TJ. She loves to dance and sing and has a ferocious heart for helping others and making sure everyone feels included. Ariella's dream is to become a mechanical and software engineer when she grows up and hopes to use that to help climate change. She is happiest when she's with her friends and eating salmon nigiri. 

Ava Lee

Ava Lee was born in San Diego, California and attended Barnard Elementary, a CI classroom sponsored by SDSU. She now lives in Brooklyn, New York with her mom and two cats.  Ava will be entering 5th grade in the fall at PS 184 Shuang Wen elementary, a dual language Chinese/ English school. She enjoys making art, swimming, and going to museums.  

Avery White

Avery White is a rising senior at City Honors School in Buffalo, NY. She began learning Mandarin in fifth grade and plans to continue and enhance her studies in college. Avery has participated in events and speech competitions associated with the University at Buffalo Confucius Institute. She hopes to travel to China one day in order to satisfy her curiosity and expand her involvement in the culture.  

Cassia Charles

My name is Cassia Charles. I was born on the island of the Commonwealth of Dominica. My family and I immigrated to the United States when I was 4 years old. I have lived most of my life in New York City. I am a graduate of Cornell University and currently work at New York Presbyterian Hospital. In the summer of 2019 I made the decision to go back to school to obtain my Master’s Degree in Public Health as well as become a Physician’s Assistant. I have been taking post-baccalaureate classes at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, New York. I eventually want to work with the US CDC and the Chinese CDC. Once the pandemic is over I plan to return to one of my favorite activities – traveling.

Kaityn Cui

Kaitlyn Cui is a rising high school senior at Northwood High School from Southern California. She has been learning Chinese ever since she could speak, and graduated from her local Chinese school in 9th grade. As a Chinese-American and a daughter of immigrants, she understands the value of maintaining connections with her Chinese roots; she does this mainly through volunteering at Chinese school and participating in events that promote learning about Chinese language and culture. She looks forward to visiting China again after the pandemic!

Madelyne Berwitz

Madelyne Berwitz is a rising seventh-grade student who has been studying Chinese for over seven years. She has a love for experiencing new cultures, as well as trying new things. Madelyne also has many hobbies, including baking, running, and traveling.

Michelle Liu

Michelle Liu is a rising 8th grader at Longfellow Middle School in Northern Virginia. She was born in Illinois, grew up in Texas and moved to Northern Virginia in 4th grade.  She loves Chinese and she loves helping others learn Chinese. Currently, she is the instructor of the Conversational Chinese class at Hope Chinese school and teaches kids ages 5-14 how to speak Chinese. Michelle is the winner of several local, national and international level Chinese language and cultural competitions. Her Chinese essays have been published in local Chinese newspapers.  

Rachel Huang

Rachel Huang is a rising senior at Punahou School in Hawai'i. She is a violinist in her school's orchestra and an editor for her school's yearbook. In her free time, she enjoys sewing, playing the piano, and watching Chinese dramas. While Rachel is also learning Spanish and Korean, Chinese is the language she is most proficient at. She started learning Chinese at the age of 6 at a local Chinese school, and has continued to expand her Chinese knowledge as well as help others along their journey. One of the projects she has been working on is an educational Instagram account where she creates and posts mini Chinese lessons. In the future, Rachel hopes to study abroad during college in China to get a feel of what it's like to live there and learn more about Chinese culture. 

Spyros-Andres Velez Zervos

Spyros-Andres is seven years old and lives in Austin, Texas, with his brother, Thalis Julian, his Greek mother and his Colombian father. He just finished second grade at Little Tiger, a Chinese immersion school he has attended for three years. He is growing up in a multilingual and multicultural environment that he enjoys. Spyros-Andres loves reading books and playing with the waves in the sea.

Thalia Blankson

Thalia Blankson is an Arizona State University online, where she studies international Affairs and Leadership. she began studying Chinese on her own and then started taking classes at her undergraduate institute University of Albany and later joining the Confucius Institutes. She will continue learning Chinese.