HAVANA — Havana’s Confucius Institute, the only certified institution in the island country that teaches the Chinese language and culture, saw an “enrollment explosion” this academic year.
The institute, located in the capital’s Chinatown, is part of a growing network of institutions worldwide that receives support from the China National Office for Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language (Hanban), to promote the Chinese language and culture in other countries.
Today, there are more than 500 Confucius Institutes in 134 countries and they are a perfect testimony to the increased exchanges between students of different nationalities and Chinese teachers.
Cuba’s Confucius Institute opened in November 2009 and academic activities began in January 2010 following the signing of a cooperation agreement between Hanban and the University of Havana.
“We have a total of 950 students this year in 43 class groups for the 6 levels of Chinese language, while we also have 14 groups of children and teenagers aged between 11 and 17, with special courses designed for their age group,” the institute’s director, Arsenio Aleman, told Xinhua.
Aleman said that in Cuba’s case, the courses are free and the expenses are covered by the island’s government and Hanban. Hanban is also responsible for providing teachers and equipment.
Zhang Wei, co-director of Havana’s Confucius Institute, is happy to see hundreds of candidates applying for the basic Chinese classes offered by the institution.
“China and Cuba have very close economic, cultural and political ties. Many Cubans have realized the importance of this strategic relationship and have decided to learn our language to understand each other better. For them learning Chinese is a way to prepare for the future,” he said.
Zhang said that one of the institute’s objectives is to serve as a window for the world to appreciate the Chinese language and its culture as well as for teachers and volunteers to learn about other countries.
“Chinese teachers and staff have the opportunity to travel to other nations to teach and learn from other cultures. This is one of Confucius’ thoughts as he said that one should live and learn,” said Zhang.
For Cubans, the institution is an important place to learn and master the Chinese language and also understand a thousands-year-old culture.
That is the case for computer engineer Alberto Garcia who spoke to Xinhua about his experience of studying for two years at Havana’s Confucius Institute.
“I came here to meet the needs at my work due to the growing trade between the two countries. It has been very helpful, interesting and challenging to learn Chinese,” he said.
Dayana Liao, a young lawyer in Havana, entered the Confucius Institute to reconnect with her Chinese roots.
“When I became aware there is a Confucius Institute in Havana I enrolled without thinking. Now I have begun my third year here,” she said.
Liao also said it’s surprising and encouraging to see the progress China has achieved in recent years as an emerging country with new development proposals that are stimulating, especially for underdeveloped nations.
“I think it is very important for the youth and for everyone in general to learn Chinese because it will be the most used language this century,” said Liao.