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Friday Letter 2014-12-17:
Special Edition China Trip

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Dear Friends,

At the beginning of December I had the opportunity, with several other university leaders, to visit China. Our trip had multiple objectives, including visiting a dairy research institute in Harbin; touring and meeting with leaders from our Chinese partner institution, the South China University of Technology (SCUT); and participating in an international conference for the Confucius Institute. It was my fourth visit to China, and first as president of UI.
Harbin, in northern China, has a distinctly Russian architectural and cultural imprint. At the Nestlé Dairy Farming Institute in the city, I was joined by Dean John Foltz from the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, Dean Jie Chen with the College of Graduate Studies, and Mary Beth. We toured the facility in wind-chill temperatures that reached 25 below zero. The institute is a private-public partnership of the University of Wisconsin, Nestle, Alltech and several other companies that provide services for breeding, feed and milking equipment. The institute is expanding its applied research capabilities, and it is an interesting collaboration to learn from as we move forward with a dairy research initiative in Idaho.
From Harbin, Dean Chen, Mary Beth and I headed to Guangzhou, in southern China, the country’s third-largest city and home to SCUT. Associate Professor Matthew Wappett and Dr. Hiaxen Xue, co-directors of UI’s Confucius Institute, met us for tours of the “Education Megacenter” campus, discussions with SCUT researchers and a meeting with the university’s president. We also had a meeting with the Confucius Institute board of directors, exploring ways of broadening our academic cooperation to include additional student and faculty exchanges, study abroad options, and other cultural and academic programming. Guangzhou, as you might imagine, is a bustling city with a complex history — in the past, during the period of British presence, the penalties for teaching Chinese to a foreigner were harsh. Now the Confucius Institute drives efforts to facilitate understanding of language and culture — inviting foreigners in, instead of keeping them out.
Here you might be asking: What exactly is the Confucius Institute? While these centers exist across the United States, the program at UI is the only one in Idaho. A partnership with Hanban, the Chinese government ministry, UI’s program was established in 2013 and provides an array of opportunities, including Chinese language instruction for K-12 and UI students, exciting cultural events and performances, panel discussions and seminars, and more.
The Confucius Institute at UI serves as a critical bridge between our state and what will soon be the world’s largest economy. In just over a year this program has already accomplished much, and its continued growth (including statewide programming in places such as Boise) will be a boon to students, community members, business leaders and others across Idaho.
Travelling next to Xiamen, we attended the Confucius Institute International Conference. Xiamen is a city of 2 million people, with many temples, a major university, markets filled with fresh fruit and an abundance of tantalizing restaurants. At the conference I learned about some of the challenges and opportunities other programs face, and I was privileged to be one of the few university presidents to gain a face-to-face meeting with Chinese government’s minister of culture. Madame Zhu emphasized, in English, the importance of learning each other’s languages. I delivered a presentation about our Confucius Institute’s great progress over the last year, noting that we would like to increase our impact on and off campus.

China is a country that is rapidly moving forward. We caught many glimpses of its history, its vibrant economy, and intriguing culture — the kind of understandings that are important for building effective relationships. (View a gallery of trip photos.) Partnering with China through SCUT and the Confucius Institute is a key to the future for our university and for the state of Idaho.
We have travelled far in the past year, and in the future we will go even further.
Go Vandals!

Chuck Staben

Photo Gallery of Trip Highlights

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