Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Sixtieth Anniversary?

The other night, the Minister Counselor for Education in the Chinese Embassy invited to his beautiful residence (adjacent to Rock Creek Park and the Hungarian Embassy) a number of us who have been involved in educational exchanges with China. The occasion? To mark the 60th anniversary of the People's Republic of China accepting foreign scholars and students.

A small group of about fifteen of us first met with the Minister Counselor, to offer friendly advice as to how China might enhance the experiences of foreigners who come to China for educational exchanges. This was an interesting session that was conducted partly in English and partly in Chinese. (No pressure there!) The students, a pair of whom go to GW, made a number of great points about how to create environments where true language immersion can occur. (The root of the problem? With such interest in learning English among the urban Chinese population, it is now very possible to live in places like Beijing and hardly ever be forced to speak Mandarin outside of the classroom.)

After the meeting, our small group joined a larger assembly that included representatives of the State Department and other government agencies. The most interesting part of the speechifying part of the evening? Representatives from both China and the United States kept referring to this gathering as marking the 60th anniversary of China receiving foreign scholars and students. What was for the most part left unsaid is the fact that our two nations did not have diplomatic relations until about thirty years ago. Back at the founding of the People's Republic, American students were sent/called back home to the United States. (One of those students, who has over the past six decades had a long and distinguished career in and out of academia, was actually in attendance at the event. How cool is that!?)

What all of this diplomatic history means is that we Americans and Chinese were gathered in part to celebrate the acceptance all those years ago by the People's Republic of scholars and students from the Soviet Union and other communist countries against which the United States was aligned during the Cold War. I know, I know...There is much to commemorate in the educational exchanges that have occurred over the past three decades between China and the United States (including our little family adventure!). I am just not overwhelmed by calling such a commemoration a 60th anniversary.

In the end, all of this is a long way of saying that diplomacy is definitely not my professional calling!

~Steve

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