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NMSU Confucius Institute helps college, K-12 students across region study Chinese

In global references, New Mexico State University and Las Cruces occupy a small section of the United States, but an NMSU professor believes students can have a connection across the Pacific Ocean.


Eight males stand and pose for a photo.
Cathedral High School in El Paso, Texas, is one of New Mexico State University’s Confucius Classrooms, and a small group of students had the chance to spend three weeks in the Hanban Chinese Bridge Summer Camp in Henan, China, in July. (Courtesy photo)

“We can’t just think of ourselves as a little corner of the Southwest, we are a little corner of the world and our students really take to Chinese culture,” said Elvira Hammond, co-director of NMSU’s Confucius Institute.

Across the state of New Mexico and southwest Texas, the Confucius Institute oversees the Chinese language and cultural instruction programs.

To celebrate Confucius’s birthday, which is Sept. 28, the center is hosting Confucius Institute Day Thursday, Sept. 25. From 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. free lessons in taiji, dance and calligraphy will be offered on the front lawn of Corbett Center. A reception will follow from 2:30-4 p.m. in the faculty senate chambers of Garcia Annex.

NMSU’s Confucius Institute works with a wide range of students from college to elementary.

“We have about 500 students in Chinese between northern New Mexico and southwestern Texas, and that says a lot about this region and the community being forward thinking,” Hammond said. “We’re very excited to be a part of it.”

Hammond said she believes that students are drawn to Chinese because they understand the country’s importance as a political, economic, cultural and social power.

“I think students are attracted to this culture across the Pacific and recognize their impact historically in this part of the world and not just the 21st century,” Hammond said.

“Our rural communities really get how important is it to be able to talk directly to Chinese buyers and not have to worry about the language barriers,” she said. “For a lot of kids, Spanish is there first language. If these kids come out with Spanish, English and even just a smattering of Chinese, they can talk to most of the world. It’s really exciting. Many of them come from farm communities where they sell their pecans or chiles to China.”

With an increase in demand for Chinese language at NMSU, advanced Chinese, for third-year students, is being offered in fall 2014 for the first time.

At the K-12 level, the Confucius Institute helps both individual students and school districts improve their Chinese language.

In summer 2014, Ruben Mena, a senior at Arrowhead Park Early College High School in Las Cruces, competed in the Chinese Bridge Language Competition and won the opportunity to spend the 2014-15 academic year studying abroad.

Three of the Confucius Institute’s schools, Cathedral High School in El Paso, Texas, Vado Elementary School and Corrales International School in Albuquerque, won Confucius Classroom grants. Each school received a $10,000 grant, which is renewable annually, from the Chinese Council on the Teaching of Chinese as a foreign language. The grants help fund Chinese language teachers, Chinese language instructional materials and Chinese cultural activities.

The Confucius Classroom grant also helped a small group of students from Cathedral High School travel to China in July for the Chinese Bridge Summer Camp at the Shaolin Monastery, which is known for its martial arts.

The students, who have been studying Chinese for three years, did an intensive three-week language program and learned about Chinese culture, songs and art and spent time sightseeing. The Chinese Council on Teaching Chinese as a Second Language sponsored the trip.

Hammond said she hopes to increase participation in the summer camp program at Cathedral next year, and expand it to Alma d’arte Charter High School in Las Cruces. Alma d’arte is the only high school in Las Cruces that offers Chinese language and 45 students are studying the language.