Croatia turns its sights on China
Updated: 2012-05-22 08:10
By Zhao Yinan in Zagreb, Croatia (China Daily)
"You are tall in height. I hope you can also be a giant at learning Chinese."
The words of visiting top Chinese legislator Wu Bangguo sparked a burst of laughter from the Croatian students on Saturday.
Wu, chairman of the National People's Congress Standing Committee, China's legislative body, attended the opening ceremony of Croatia's first Confucius Institute at Zagreb University and talked to the students there, who are learning Chinese part-time.
"To better understand Chinese culture, you have to visit the country. I think more opportunities and scholarship will be given to you after the Confucius Institute is established," he told students.
Tanja Grilec, dressed in traditional Chinese clothes, was preparing for a welcoming song. She said she has been studying Chinese in her free time at the school for about a year.
"My friends and I have been preparing traditional dance and songs for several weeks, to celebrate the opening of the Confucius Institute here," the architecture student said.
One of about 100 students in the Chinese culture center who studies Chinese language and art part-time, Tanja said she has been interested in Chinese for a long time, although she has never been to the country.
"I am especially interested in the strokes of Chinese characters, since I think it can help improve my understanding of building structure," the Croa tian student said, while humming a Chinese tune she was going to perform at the opening ceremony.
The Confucius Institute, which is affiliated to Zagreb University, is expected to bring more teaching faculties, learning materials and exchange opportunities to the school.
Mislav Jezic is the dean of the Chinese culture department. The professor said the school currently has five teachers - two from China and three from Croatia - "far from enough" to meet the growing interest among Croatians in China.
"I hope that, by being part of the Confucius Institutes, our school can have more teaching resources, scholarships for students to study in China and opportunities to organize cultural festivals for ordinary Croatians at weekends," he said.
The newly opened institute is also the latest outlet of China's Hanban, a public institute affiliated to the Ministry of Education, committed to providing Chinese language and cultural teaching resources and services worldwide.
Hanban has seen more than 350 similar outlets and 470 classrooms established across the world since 2004, and the outlets are named Confucius Institutes after the great philosopher in ancient China, whose thought has influenced China for more than 2,000 years.
Zagreb University started teaching the Chinese language in 1981 and began to provide courses about Chinese culture and art in 1994. Hundreds of students have graduated from the school since then.
"By taking these lessons we can be exposed to many facets of China, including art, literature, history and calligraphy, and that can be beneficial to us in the long run," said Rin Mikulic, a part-time student in his third year.
The 25-year-old man, an auditor by trade, said he started to learn Chinese because he believes "many people in the West think of China in a biased way", and he hopes he can help correct the prejudice.
"The company I am working for also has branches in China, and I hope my expertise in Chinese can help me pin down an opportunity there," he said in fluent Chinese.
Unlike similar language and culture promotion centers, such as France's Alliance Francaise and Germany's Goethe-Institute, which are independently organized, the Confucius Institutes cooperate with established universities, colleges and secondary schools around the world.
Every institute is managed by the combination of a Chinese director and a foreign counterpart.