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US school sees Chinese language as key to global citizenship

Updated: 2022-01-06 08:34 ( China Daily )
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CHICAGO-They are teenagers. They started learning Chinese when they were young and are now learning it out of their love for Chinese culture. They are from Chicago Intercultural Montessori Language School, a private nonprofit institution.

Mananne Krutsch started to learn Chinese when she was 2. Her parents encouraged her to do it because they thought it may give her more work opportunities when she grows up. "But I am still learning (Chinese), because I like my teacher and classmates, and I like Chinese culture," says Mananne, now 13. "I want to be an architect when I grow up. I want to see Chinese architecture."

Miriam Mitchell, 12, started to learn Chinese when she was a first-grader. "My parents want me to have more work opportunities, I also want to learn Chinese," says Miriam, adding that her family is planning a trip to China next year.

Lily Rabb, 14, chose to learn Chinese in 2011. "I think Chinese is a beautiful language. China has a beautiful culture and a colorful history. I want to learn about it all," says Lily, who has been to China twice, and thinks that the Great Wall "has such beauty, such grace" and it was a highlight of her visit there.

Lily wants to be a fashion designer, and she's interested in Chinese fashion. She plans to "study fashion in China" after graduating from college.

The Chicago Intercultural Montessori Language School, which accepts students from the ages of 2 to 14, introduced the Mandarin program in 2009 based on suggestions from parents. Since then, the program has grown. Of the 300-odd students at the school, more than 100, or one-third, are taking Chinese classes.

Initially, interest came from parents of Chinese origin, but then non-Chinese Americans who are doing business with China joined in. "They want to make sure that their children know how to speak Mandarin," says the school principal Roderick Shaw. "This is how we have been able to grow the program."

Chinese teacher Ji Xiang has worked at the school for 11 years. She has three students following her Chinese class all the way from age 3 to middle school. "Most of the students who take Chinese class at the school are from native American households," she says. "They may initially take up studying Chinese as another language, or a gateway to future opportunities. After studying for a period of time, it's their love for the language and culture that keeps them going."

The school celebrates Chinese Spring Festival every year, and the students will organize various activities. They also invite all students on campus to sample mooncakes at the Mid-Autumn Festival, the 15th day of the eighth lunar month.

Ji remembers clearly that when COVID-19 pandemic hit Wuhan, capital of Hubei province in China, in early 2020, the students of the school donated nearly 6,000 face masks to the city. "They came to school at 7 am every morning to make and sell hot cocoa, and raised nearly $4,000 in a week."

A year-and-a-half later, the city of Wuhan paid this favor back, Shaw says. The Chinese city donated cleaning products to the school through the Chinese Consulate General in Chicago.

"It has been a great relationship that has been nurtured, and we are thinking about establishing a sister school in China," Shaw says. "We don't want just to teach the language, we want to make sure that the students experience the culture of China."

"The key here is for us to create citizens of the world, so that all of us feel that we are part of this world, rather than part of different continents.

"This is what the school does. It tries to make the bridges shorter so that we all have better understanding of each other."


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