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.


Kayla Raden

One by One

By Kayla Raden

The one thing that all humans on this planet have in common is an innate longing to communicate with others. From the moment of birth, we are eager to tell the world “I am here, and I am ready to know you!” Communicating with others and describing things as simple as a blue sky or how you like your morning coffee are things that we do every single day without a second thought. Now, imagine for a second that the letters and words in English that we have grown to love so much have now turned into characters and strokes; imagine a language that not only has characters but is also full of colloquialisms, metaphors, and tones that—as an English speaker—you’ve never had to speak before. I had this experience.

Looking at this seemingly massive collection of characters left me in complete amazement and with a bit of fear.

In the late summer of 2016, I landed in Shanghai, China. I found myself sitting in the back of a taxi in awe, staring at the signs posted for passengers to read. There was not a single word of English. Looking at this seemingly massive collection of characters left me in complete amazement and, to be quite honest, with a bit of fear. My mind began to race, and worries started swirling in my head. How was I to get around if I can’t read street signs? How will I be able to pay my bills? How will I find a bathroom? Will anyone ever be able to understand me?

After a few moments, I caught myself and came back to reality. Staring ahead once again at the sign for taxi passengers, I noticed that some characters looked simpler than others. With my fear beginning to subside, I thought to myself that perhaps 一,二 , and 三 may just be the characters for 1, 2, and 3. I shyly smiled and wrote these characters down in my journal. “Well,” I thought to myself, “Three down, thousands to go!”

Learning Chinese was not much of a necessity during my stay in China. I imagine that I could have gotten by using translating apps and asking my friends for help, but this was not the life I wanted for myself. By not understanding the people around me and not being able to laugh with everyone else in the movie theaters, I felt that I would be missing out on wonderful human interactions.

Studying Chinese with my friends who are native speakers allowed me to understand the language’s beautiful complexity and its historical richness. Slowly, Chinese changed from my second language to something more special – it became another way for me to communicate and express myself. Upon returning to the United States, I felt a longing for all the things I missed about China. I missed the food, the traveling, but most of all I missed the friendships I made with people I met during my travels.

Walking into the Confucius Institute at SUNY College of Optometry felt like I was back with my old friends in China. I was greeted with a warm 你好 and a smile. I knew that I had found my piece of Shanghai here at home. Over the course of several months, I studied both independently and with the help of teachers at the Confucius Institute. Looking forward to each visit, I always had new words and phrases that I wanted to practice speaking. Knowing that there was a place where I would always be welcome to practice my Chinese gave me the motivation I needed to really push myself to study harder and go beyond my comfort zone.

A relative asked me why I loved studying Chinese so much. It took me a moment to really think about my answer. “It’s humbling,” I said, “it’s a language completely rooted in its own history and to understand even just a piece of the language is to understand an entire part of world history.” With each character, there is a story and the use of these characters in new and modern ways shows how both versatile and flexible such an ancient language can be.

Learning Chinese has not only taught me about history, but it has taught me about empathy and humility.

Learning Chinese has not only taught me about history, but it has taught me about empathy and humility. Recently, I have also begun to learn Chinese calligraphy and character writing. Painstakingly, I look over each stroke, and I feel like a child learning language for the first time. I am learning how to write my name all over again. Once I was satisfied with the look of my characters, I took a picture of the worksheet and sent it to one of my friends in China. The caption below my large, proud, and hand-written characters said, “How will I ever learn to write all of these?” Without pause, he simply replied, “One by one.”

Kayla Raden


Confucius Institute at SUNY College of Optometry

High School Biology and Chemistry Teacher

Marlton, New Jersey

Kayla Raden is a high school biology and chemistry teacher from New Jersey.

Kayla spent a year teaching science at an international high school in Shanghai, China and traveled to several cities in China during her time abroad. While in China, she fell in love with the Chinese language and began to study the characters and learn conversational Chinese from friends. Upon returning to the United States, Kayla joined the Confucius Institute at SUNY College of Optometry and found her Shanghai here at home. She has studied and passed HSK levels 1, 2, and 3 in under 6 months. In the future, Kayla hopes to use her passion for language learning and science to continue teaching students from around the world.

Anna Shostya

My Confucius Institute Story

By Anna Shostya

I woke up in tears. The Phoenix Hotel felt empty, and as I walked to the cleaners and the French bakery that morning, I felt that KongJiang Lu, the street that I felt to be so close to my heart, had lost some charm, too. The workers at the KFC across the hotel hailed me as I came for lunch and somehow that made me cry, too. I just bid goodbye to my 19 students at the airport. They have not yet boarded the plane that will take them back to the United States, and yet, I already miss them. I am fighting the tears running down my cheeks. I climbed the Great Wall of China, so I am a Man (不到长城非好汉, as Mao Zedong said), and men do not cry.

It was Shanghai that stole my heart and became my second home.

I have been to China many times before, as a visiting professor at the University of Shanghai for Science and Technology. In fact, I came every year, sometimes even twice a year, to teach Chinese students Principles of Economics, Money and Banking, Advertising, and other economics and business subjects. I taught in English, but every time I came to China, I learned a few Chinese words here and there and over time, I developed what I called “a survival kit” – a set of important words and phrases that helped me survive on the streets of Shanghai. And although I traveled to many distant lands and explored many unique places in the Middle Kingdom, it was Shanghai that stole my heart and became my second home. I could get lost on the streets of the old town and just enjoy the secret treasures it offered – street food, local music, or random conversations. Or I could wake up at six o’clock in the morning and join the old ladies practicing Qi Gong in Heping Park. Or I could try my Chinese language skills at the local market. Shanghai would never disappoint. China would never bore. In fact, China always had this amazing therapeutic, invigorating effect on me.

This time it was different.

It was the first time that my colleague Professor Joseph Morreale from Pace University and I brought a group of our American students to China. We wanted to get the students interested in our new five-course China Economic Studies Program and introduce them to the wonderful opportunities of the Confucius Institute (CI) at Pace University. We had them take a brief set of seminars on Chinese language and culture through the CI and also exposed them to some of the faculty of the Institute.

When we were designing the short-term faculty-led study abroad course, we were thinking about two major goals. One was purely educational. China is a superpower, but it is also a country of great complexity. Its fast economic growth pulled millions of people out of poverty, yet inequality is rather widespread. Its rising middle class enjoys driving luxury cars, yet the heavily-polluted air damages the health of children and adults alike. We wanted our American students to understand these contradictions and we wanted them to get a first-hand experience with the country that has been at the center-stage of the world’s attention for several decades. A two-week study-abroad course would provide a great opportunity for our students to have such an experience. It would expand their knowledge of China’s culture, history, and economic development.

China is a superpower, but it is also a country of great complexity.

But there was another, more subtle objective of our course. We wanted to share with them our love for China, and especially, for Shanghai. With China, there is no middle ground – you either love it or you hate it. Prof. Morreale and I loved it from the first sight. We wanted to infect our students with that love, too. So, we took them to the places we enjoyed the most – KonJiang Lu, Shen Garden restaurant, the Aquarium, the Oriental TV Tower, People’s Square, and the Bund. We wanted to share with them our fascination with the 5,000 years of history, the delectable cuisine, and especially the people. And we were so happy to see that we had succeeded in achieving both goals!

And now the students are gone. The tears are still burning my eyes. It was the most exhausting and at the same time the most rewarding experience I have ever had!

We beefed up their itinerary to a degree that was difficult to imagine. And yet, no one complained. They were literally immersed in whatever China could offer, and this total immersion was shocking, but not entirely surprising. Because I, too, went through this “immersion” experience when I came to China for the first time. Our students asked us economics-related questions and initiated some serious discussions. They wanted to discuss the economic and social aspects of China during lunch, on a train, and during a walk. They were eager to practice Tai Chi early in a park, to do research on a train to Beijing, and to read articles in China Daily on a bus. We, as teachers, truly appreciated their never-ending curiosity, their unceasing hunger for knowledge and new experiences, and their extraordinary open-mindedness. It made our efforts really worthwhile.

It was a great feeling to stand on the Great Wall…I touched the ancient stones put together by the hands of people who are long gone.

Those two weeks became a truly transformational experience for our students. Some of them took more Chinese language classes after they came back to the United States. Some started to pursue China’s Economic Studies track. Some did research on China. Some read more books about China’s culture and history. The 19 students who embarked on a great journey to gain insight into why and how the US and China can better understand one another and how we, as Americans, can personally better relate to the Chinese, have graduated some 5 years ago. Some of them went back to China. I can picture Kevin walking on the streets of Shanghai, together with his Chinese girlfriend. And I can envision Paige talking to her business partners in one of the skyscrapers in Pudong. And I often get e-mails from Ingrid, who is now teaching economics at a high school in Guangzhou. I do not know where most of them are now and what they do. But I do know for sure that China will stay in their hearts forever and that they will never think of the Middle Kingdom as just another country. And this is exactly what I wanted to do – to share with my students my great appreciation of China, and most importantly, of its people.

The last tear has dried up. I looked at the grey sky above my head – the silver speck of the plane cut through the cloud. My students are on their way home. They will never know that this was a very special trip for me. After going through six months of chemo treatments and surviving cancer last year, I was not sure if I would be able to come to China again. It was a great feeling to stand on the Great Wall, with my hair caressed by the gentle breeze from the mountains. I touched the ancient stones put together by the hands of people who are long gone. There were people before me. There will be people after me. I am part of a continuous flow. I am a Man. I climbed the Great Wall of China!

Dominique Biraga

China: My Inspiration

By Dominique Biraga

The musical and mesmerizing characteristics of Mandarin Chinese are why I have vacated a portion of my soul to accommodate this alluring language. I first discovered my love for Chinese during my junior year at The Gilbert School, which coincidentally was around the time said alma mater, with the boundless support of the Confucius Institute at Central Connecticut State University (CCSU), started offering Mandarin to its students. The moment our principal announced that Mandarin Chinese would be introduced into our school’s language department, I knew I had to be one of the few students daring enough to take it. That initial, spontaneous decision paved the way for my overabundant mind to finally decide on what its owner would pursue in her future: becoming a Chinese teacher!

I have always been entranced by the world’s abundance of uniquely and continuously evolving languages.

I have always been entranced by the world’s abundance of uniquely and continuously evolving languages. Having previously learned Spanish and Latin, communicating daily in Polish with my family at home, and currently taking both Chinese and Japanese courses at none other than CCSU, the residence of Connecticut’s first and only Confucius Institute, I profess myself a language devotee and do so proudly. After all, how many people can genuinely say that they have had a close encounter with six distinct languages? Even some native English speakers admit to being unable to handle the language’s various complexities, and most dare not experiment with a second, threateningly harder language. My aspiration, however, is to become more than proficient in every language towards which I gravitate. By becoming a teacher fluent in Chinese who understands the needs and interests of my students, I wish to minimize the distance and misunderstandings between our two simultaneously prospering nations.

Although there have been several languages that sourced from me an utter fascination and the desire to persist in learning, Chinese has residency in the most secure depths of my heart and shall continue to henceforth. Had I not taken up Chinese four years ago, I would have never been able to establish the relationships that I have with hard-working, genuinely kind-hearted teachers, who dedicate their time and energy to tautening their students’ connection to the world’s most-spoken language; and with peers with whom I share a common interest or two. I also realize now, four years later, that, had I not fallen head over heels for this one linguistic miracle, today I would still be an immature, unmotivated adolescent more interested in selecting an ensemble for the following day than a solid career, that will ensure my survival long after graduation. Needless to say, the Mandarin facet of Chinese shaped my life into a meaningful cycle of inspiration, looking to Chinese whenever I need a pick-me-up or a friend that will not disappoint, and convincing myself that I have finally accomplished something worthy of both commendation and awe; mostly, I have been searching for approval from myself.

The Mandarin facet of Chinese shaped my life into a meaningful cycle of inspiration…

At the time of writing this personal reflection, I have recently received news of my advancing to the final round of the Chinese Bridge Speech Competition yet again, this time as a university student. The first time I submitted a speech was in January of 2016. Less than a month later, I learned that I had moved on to the finals, taking place at University of Massachusetts Boston (UMass) at the end of March that same year. I was overcome with various emotions, the most vivid being excitement and nervousness; the aforementioned pair has since returned. I am now prepared to compete in this renowned contest again, to give it my all, and to make my former and present teachers, my family, and, most importantly, myself proud. Not only is this contest a great opportunity for students to enhance their knowledge of Chinese and experience firsthand the timeless and captivating culture of China, it is also a way for them to form everlasting bonds with one another and discover previous unknowns about themselves, such as their desire to progress in their Chinese studies and become one of surprisingly few foreign Chinese-language teachers.

Participating in the Chinese Bridge Speech Competition, sponsored by UMass’ Confucius Institute, also earned me the ability to travel for the first time to China. All twenty-four finalists were invited to participate in a two-week tour of three of China’s most important cities: Beijing, Shanghai, and Hangzhou. This tour was made possible by a language camp organized by the Confucius Institute, which likewise covered the cost of all the food, activities, and lodging we enjoyed when in China. Said trip took place two years ago in July, but I’m as grateful to CI now as I was then for ensuring that two-dozen teens relish a summer abundant in cultural revelations, exposures to the Chinese language, and moments to transform strangers into lifelong friends.

I’m eagerly awaiting my return to China, which I consider to be my second home. Participation in the version of the Chinese Bridge Speech Competition for university students rewards finalists with a scholarship to study for the month of July at Renmin University in Beijing, China. This opportunity to study abroad is also funded in full by the Confucius Institute, and I am determined to make the most of it. I plan to reunite with close friends galore and strengthen my way of speaking Chinese – that is, utter all with confidence as opposed to being fearful of making an ultimately meaningless mistake or mispronunciation, as I have been known to dread in the past. I have since discovered that such mistakes are welcome and I have come to embrace them; from them, I learn and become a better student, teacher, and version of my former self. I am also ready to explore more of this unique, enthralling land. China will always be the place I turn to when I need reassurance or enlightenment. It will be where I head when I am uncertain of the past but determined to commence the future. It will be where I decide which manner to spend the rest of my life. It will be where I open my arms to new ideas and opportunities. But most of all, it will be where I find myself.

Love Zubiller


I Really Like That Red Dress


By Love Zubiller

My kids are the smartest people I know. My son is in fourth grade, and he can already speak conversational Mandarin; my daughter is in first grade and she, too, excels in the language. That is no easy feat. Believe me; I know firsthand how difficult it is.

The two of them attend Barnard Mandarin Magnet Elementary School in San Diego. They have been taught Mandarin Chinese since kindergarten. They are also well versed in the Six Ancient Arts of Confucianism, which were brought to our school by the Confucius Institute at San Diego State University. My son has a special affinity for the abacus. When we were offered a spot on the Confucius Institute’s trip to Beijing last summer for him to participate in the fifth annual ShenMo International Abacus Competition, we jumped at the chance to go.

If my nine-year-old son could speak the language fluently, surely I could learn a few key phrases to impress the locals.

There was a lot of preparation before the trip. While my son was honing his math skills on an ancient Chinese calculating tool, I was starting a journey of my own: the art of speaking Mandarin without sounding like a middle-aged, American, non-Mandarin-speaking mom. If my nine-year-old son could speak the language fluently, surely I could learn a few key phrases to impress the locals. I had six months to prepare.

I had been taking Mandarin classes with other parents at our school for a few months already. The curriculum began with numbers, which was a cinch for me because I heard my kids say them so many times in their kindergarten years. Maybe this wasn’t going to be as difficult as I thought. Then we went into interrogative pronouns, which were fun because we said them in a little jingle. “Shén me, Shén me… What? What? What?” A piece of cake!

Then it got harder… and harder… and harder.

While I struggled to learn the most basic principles of the language, my awe and appreciation for my kids’ Mandarin skills increased exponentially by the second. How could my kids distinguish between the four tones? How could they decipher the tiny variances in the characters? And what on earth is a “radical?” I dreaded mispronouncing the word “ma” and the ensuing insult this would cause to the other people in my conversation. I was terrified of errantly calling someone a “yé ye” when he really should be a “wài gong.” Learning Mandarin was not going according to plan, and the trip was fast approaching.

While I struggled to learn the most basic principles of the language, my awe and appreciation for my kids’ Mandarin skills increased exponentially by the second.

When our parents Mandarin classes finished at the end of the school year, the teachers challenged us to write a long sentence on our own. Inspiration struck, and I wrote: Wǒ hěn xǐhuān zhège hóngsè qípáo. (“I really like that red dress.”) Certain that I had written the most brilliant and poetic passage known to modern Chinese literature, I proudly memorized it in hopes of impressing my kids. That night at the dinner table I waited for the right moment. I cleared my throat and stated in Chinese: I really like that red dress.
Except that it didn’t exactly come out that way.

My kids stared at me in confusion, the looks on their faces implying that my head had been replaced with a giant dumpling. Then they broke out in hysterical laughter. No one was exactly sure what I said that night, but one thing was certain: I was doomed.

At last, it was time for our trip. My son and I flew to Beijing where two representatives from the Confucius Institute met us at the airport. They oohed and ahhed at my cute little blonde-haired, blue-eyed boy who could speak Mandarin so eloquently. The three of them had an animated conversation while I shyly watched from the side. Then they all turned to me and smiled. “Nǐ hǎo” was all I could say. (I’m sure I said that wrong, too.)

The abacus competition came and went way too fast. Besides taking home a second place trophy for his abacus prowess, my son was lauded for making a lengthy speech in Mandarin in front of the 800 contestants, and then another speech the next day in front of over 1,200 attendees, which would later be broadcast on TV. We were invited to the Hanban headquarters, where my good friend and our school partner Dr. Lily Cheng interpreted my English words into Mandarin for other individuals. I was too shy to put to use any of the Mandarin I had learned throughout the year.

We saw the Great Wall of China, the Forbidden City, and a great many other marvels. I tried saying a few words to the locals. “Yùshì,” the word for “bathroom,” came in handy. I continued to practice some phrases with my son, but the blank stares that appeared on his face each time I spoke gave me more anxiety. I was ready to give up.

Toward the end of our trip, we were shopping at a night market when I saw a clothing boutique on the street. My son was more interested in eating ice cream than he was in shopping for Chinese couture, but I dragged him in any way. Then I saw it: the most magnificent dress I had ever seen… and it was red. I turned to the store attendant, paused to gain my composure, and said: “Wǒ hěn xǐhuān zhège hóngsè qípáo.” My heart was beating so fast and so loudly, I was sure everyone in the shop could hear it. Did I say it correctly? Yes! The attendant replied to me in Mandarin without hesitation. My son stared at the interaction in shock and amazement, his jaw dropped so far to the floor that a parade of lion dancers could have walked right into his mouth. It was by far my proudest moment in China.

My son interpreted the rest of the conversation in the shop that night. I ended up buying a dress while we were there, although it was a white (báisè) dress. I wear my beautiful Chinese dress with extra pride because of my triumph at that shop. I will never forget the feeling I had that night and the acknowledgment that I—a 42-year-old mom from San Diego—could speak (albeit briefly) with a Beijing resident in her native language. The most important part is that this event is legendary with my son. I thank the Confucius Institute at San Diego State University for giving me my first opportunity to visit China and to accomplish this amazing feat.

Now I can’t wait to go back to China. I could really use some shoes (xié) to go with my dress.

Sadie Allen

My Family, My Home

By Sadie Allen

Walking into middle school on my first day, nervous and clad in a horrifyingly sparkled sweater, I entered a classroom filled with students who were just as anxious as me. This was not any regular class that focused on algebra or history. This was my first-ever Chinese class: my gateway to the world. Little did I know that this one class would spark an intellectual odyssey that has accompanied me to eleventh grade, where I am now finishing my final high school language course in a Confucius Classroom. From my humble beginnings simply learning about the vast culture of the country, to delving deep into the language, Chinese has left a remarkable impact on my learning and my life, one character at a time.

Chinese has left a remarkable impact on my learning and my life, one character at a time.

Perhaps the most influential piece in my journey was my Chinese teacher, Lou Laoshi. She began teaching me in my freshman year of high school, yet another nervous start in my educational endeavors. While I was anxious about taking such a difficult language, Lou Laoshi made it approachable. I recall grumbling about her strict policies: we were only to speak Chinese in the classroom, and we were to memorize characters religiously. These practices soon bloomed into a wonderful foundation, allowing me to climb my way up to the top of my class. I even began speaking Chinese to my family, much to their dismay. I still accidentally thank waiters in the language! Even though I didn’t realize it, I was immersing myself in Chinese, inside and outside of the classroom. I began to drink Chinese tea and research Chinese ways of life, which helped me navigate my own struggles throughout high school. We even had the chance to put on a play in Chinese for the entire school, entitled “Butterfly Lovers.” I have never been very outgoing, but this play created the perfect opportunity for me to get out of my cocoon. We spent weeks practicing the lines in Chinese, giving me the chance to learn even more words and phrases while using them to talk with my classmates. Lou Laoshi pushed me to practice the language and pushed me to be confident on stage. It worked! Despite my racked nerves, the play was a success. Not only did it advance my language learning, it also brought me out of my shell and allowed me to share my passion for Chinese with the whole school. Without Lou Laoshi pushing me and my classmates to succeed, this dream for my class would never have blossomed into reality.

I found myself understanding the country – and its people – on a much deeper level.

Another unintended (and quite positive) consequence of my fervent learning of Chinese was my widened worldview. Often, China gets stereotyped. The country has 55 ethnic minority groups, each with different ways of life. By memorizing the characters and immersing myself in the language, I found myself understanding the country – and its people – on a much deeper level. We had two Chinese New Year performances during which we invited our friends, family, and the community to eat dishes and watch us dance and sing in Chinese. I was a host at both. I introduced all the acts and explained the holiday and its traditions to the audience — all in Chinese. My first year, I recall relying on my paper and pinyin to host and perform. When I participated this year, I found myself relying more on my own knowledge and skills than the translation sheet. Afterwards, many members from the community approached me to compliment me on how professional my Chinese sounded. It made me immensely grateful for all the hard work Lou Laoshi put into teaching me and pushing me to be better. Without her constant effort to better my language skills, I would not be able to succeed. Now I have dreams of venturing to China and exploring both its history and modern developments. I am even considering studying abroad in a big city there, thus furthering my immersion and allowing me to fine-tune my language skills. This dream was nourished by my teacher as well. Without her dedication to our education and support through the Confucius Institute program, I would not be as well-rounded a language speaker or as resolved in my pursuits. In addition, Lou Laoshi funded our HSK testing with the help of the Confucius Institute. Now that I have passed HSK 3 and will soon take the HSKK exams, I will have the chance to win a scholarship to fund my studies abroad. I hope that with hard work and dedication I can soon make this dream a reality as I embark on my college journey.

One of the first striking things that I remember learning about Chinese was that the character for home and family were the same: 家 (pronounced jiā).

Chinese, with all its complications and variations, is a language that I will never forget. My experience learning Chinese has been immensely satisfying and life-changing. Many of my memories are tied to it – the class, the tones, even the characters. One of the first striking things that I remember learning about Chinese was that the character for home and family were the same: 家 (pronounced jiā). That is exactly what I found in the Chinese language; not only a family with my fellow students, but also a second home. Though the language’s birthplace is halfway across the globe, it will always have a piece of my North Carolina heart.



Kamila Carter


The Life of a CODA – Child of Deaf Adults

By Kamila Carter

“I have met many wonderful people from another part of the world. Knowing other languages has helped me realize how important communication is in this world.”

Have you ever heard of a multilingual eleven-year-old girl? I, Kamila Carter, was born to deaf parents who loved languages. Since a very young age, my mom communicated to me in Spanish, my dad in American Sign Language, and Grandma Judy in English. During the summers, I only speak Spanish with my grandparents in Los Mochis, Mexico.

My hot pink Barbie laptop would talk to me in French, Spanish and English. I always thought that was so interesting and I loved it. That was when I knew I wanted to learn more languages. My family was looking for a school that would teach me a new language. My parents found out about Riverview Elementary School in Lakeside, CA that offered a Chinese immersion program. We took a tour there. When I heard them speak Mandarin Chinese, I was really impressed. My parents soon enrolled me in this school. On the first day of kindergarten, I was nervous about going to a new school and learning a new language.

In third grade, I entered my first Chinese Competition offered by the Southern California Council of Chinese Schools, where I was awarded the fourth place in the elementary poetry recitation category. Through this award, I helped Riverview Elementary place ahead of our rival school. That same year I competed in my first Chinese Bridge Competition through the Confucius Institute at San Diego State University. Though I did not win, I studied a poem and learned a lot about China through a Chinese poet who was studying in England.

A tumbling class was also a new adventure for me this year. This experience later led me into competitive cheerleading, which I just love.

Here comes another fantastic year, fifth grade. I was able to participate in the Chinese Bridge Competition once again. I took the famous song, “A Thankful Heart,” and presented it in Chinese Sign Language. I worked very hard to do my best and guess what… I won first place! I was so amazed that I cried. It was the biggest surprise of my life. Later that year, I received the annual Brady Motivation Scholarship Award.

The Confucius Institute has created many challenging opportunities for me in my elementary years.

The Confucius Institute has created many challenging opportunities for me in my elementary years. On June 10th, 2017, I met Dr. Xuan Zheng, a Chinese woman who is deaf and taught deaf children in St. Paul, Minnesota. The intern in my fifth-grade Chinese class gave me Dr. Xuan Zheng’s email. My family arranged for us to meet at the Los Angeles Airport. We got to know each other over dinner before she flew back to China. I learned some Chinese Sign Language from Dr. Zheng.

This meeting was only a couple of hours long, but I learned so much from her about Chinese culture and how different it is from the United States.

One day at my church, Grandma Judy introduced me to a lady from China named Jingai Hu (Joy). When I first met her, I was really shy about having a conservation with her but the more she talked and the more I learned about her, the more comfortable I became. She told me that she was proud that there was someone there that spoke her language. Then we became friends.

Now I am in middle school at Tierra del Sol. This year, when I entered the Chinese Bridge Competition, I was the youngest in my category. At first, I was really nervous; once I got on stage and started speaking, I was no longer scared. I felt as confident as I would ever be. In the end, all my hard work paid off and I won ‘Best Speech.’

At first this was really scary, but the more I did it, the easier it became.

The Confucius Institute invited me to their Six Arts performances. One of the performances this year was at SeaWorld for the Chinese New Year Celebration. This was my first experience as an emcee in which I used English, Chinese, and American Sign Language. At first, this was really scary, but the more I did it, the easier it became.

This summer the Confucius Institute is making it possible for me to travel to China to experience Chinese language and culture. I will stay with a host family in Linyi and I will have an opportunity to visit Beijing and the Great Wall.

In my life so far, I have met many wonderful people from many parts of the world. Knowing other languages has helped me realize how important communication is in this world.

Kamila Carter


Confucius Institute at San Diego State University
Seventh Grader | Lakeside, California

Kamila Carter is a conscientious twelve-year-old student finishing the sixth grade at Tierra Del Sol Middle School in Lakeside, California.

She has been learning Mandarin Chinese for seven years since entering kindergarten at Riverview Elementary school. One of her greatest accomplishments to date has been winning first place at the Chinese Bridge Competition, sponsored by the Confucius Institute at San Diego State. The Institute also sponsored Kamila’s first trip to China to experience the language and culture. Her parents are deaf and use American Sign Language, Spanish and English when communicating with her. Kamila is fluent in all four languages and interprets for her parents in Sign Language. Kamila is active in her school Associated Student Body (ASB) which does service work in her community. She is on the honor roll with a 4.0 GPA average and has earned many awards as an outstanding student. Even though Kamila Carter doesn’t yet know what she will do professionally, she knows that whatever it is, it will impact the world in a positive way.

Samantha Vaughn

Oh the Places Our Shoes Go

By Samantha Vaughn

Innocent Sneakers. Bleached white with pristine edges and crinkleless shoelaces. Stitched by the weathered hands of a worker who would never know sleep but only fatigue. The rubber soles thick, never having left to walk the streets of a concrete jungle coined “Planet Earth.” The final touch before their great journey to America, the simple words, “MADE IN CHINA.”

Adolescent Sneakers. Lightly weathered by Kentucky’s winter snow and spring rains. Speckled by hamburger grease and Coca-Cola from football games. Sand from the beaches of Florida to the shores of Maine wedged in the waffle soles. English words carved across the rubber. The canvas soaked with songs by Otis Redding and The Beatles.

Adventurous Sneakers. Squished next to Chinese adapters, IDs, and travel journals. Sitting hundreds of feet above the sky, soaking up the clouds and atmosphere of the Pacific.

Arrived Sneakers. Laced up and ready to go, sneakers that will never look the same, sneakers that have returned to the place they became.

A China where despite the difference, love is formed through a single greeting, and brotherhood through a single meal.

Beijing Sneakers. The ground these sneakers step upon is o’ so foreign, but o’ so familiar. The air in Beijing so thick, but so real and invigorating. These sneakers fall on uneven stairs, on cobblestone older than China itself. They look beyond a wall and see more beauty and culture than any sneaker had before. They become unlaced as cultures collide and they open themselves to a China that is never described as it should be in history books. A China full of different shoes, of all different sizes, in all kinds of conditions. A China where despite the difference, love is formed through a single greeting, and brotherhood through a single meal. Sneakers tainted by watercolor paint from kite-making with young souls in learning places named after brave warriors.

Sneakers stained by dipping sauce to go with a Tofu so potent it is pleasant to the tongue. Spray paint drifts onto the sidewalk from the street corner art, dying a waffle sole blue. Completely and utterly loved sneakers by a university that aged them well.

Hangzhou Sneakers. Wet sneakers, dampened by the river that fueled a city so rich in culture and romance it wrote songs and playbills. Lucky shoes that saw dragons and turtles that gave them hope and promise. Bravery soaked into the sneaker’s lip and even into the neighboring socks from stories of powerful leaders and Olympic Games. A peace sign found itself on the heel of one sneaker, with the stories of universal peace birthed in this very place.

Shanghai Sneakers. Stylish sneakers, enriched by the colliding cultures and endless trade. Sneakers with matching shirts, pants, jewelry, and hats due to the array of shops, small and large, full of goods. Some Arabic, Russian, and Japanese found their way onto these sneakers as all the world’s people collide in one dining place.

Refined Sneakers. These sneakers made it back to America. They continue to circle the globe, but altered. They do not strut as they once did, they do not make themselves up to be what they are not, and they do not keep to themselves. This pair of sneakers is tainted, but not by an ick, but instead by a priceless gift. They are not ruined by where they’ve been, but enriched by what they’ve done.

Thank you for showing me a world full of pain and sorrow, but a world full of love and peace.

I am not writing today to give an eloquent speech or to win a prestigious award, I write because I am eternally grateful for China. I am eternally grateful for the Confucius Institute. I am eternally grateful for planes. I am eternally grateful for schools. I am eternally grateful for life. Thank you for showing me what to live for. We aren’t competing nations and we aren’t competing people, we are one nation and one people. We are brother and sister. Thank you for helping me step off the tall pedestal I was standing on: I am not greater than you, I do not teach you, and I do not feed you. We are equal, we teach each other, and we feed each other. Thank you for showing me a world full of pain and sorrow, but a world full of love and peace. Thank you for tainting my ignorance and turning it into knowledge.

It wasn’t about what the shoes looked like, it was about going home, because home is all around us.