It’s been a little more than 10 years since Western Kentucky University President Gary Ransdell first visited China. On his most recent trip in December, he noted the dramatic changes in the country since 1999.

“The quality of living is much improved,” Ransdell said. “And it’s becoming a much more capitalistic, entrepreneurial country.

“And in 10 years, 100 million people have replaced bicycles with cars,” he added.

With more than 1.3 billion residents, the most populous country in the world is truly a power in today’s global economy. Ransdell said it is important to facilitate trust and create positive relations with China, and WKU’s Confucius Institute is one way to do that.

On his most recent trip to China, Ransdell attended the Confucius Institute Conference for CI presidents and directors. More than 1,000 people from around the world were on hand to find out how to make the most of this relationship-building venture with China.

“I learned about what’s expected and what’s possible,” Ransdell said. “It was most enlightening and most enjoyable.”

Ransdell said the purpose of the CI is to bring the Chinese language, culture and art to Kentucky. WKU’s CI was established last March and officials had just kind of been feeling their way along.

“Now we know what other CIs are doing,” Ransdell added. “I got a lot of ideas.”

Ransdell said he will share those ideas with Wei-Ping Pan, director of the Institute for Combustion Science and Environmental Technology at WKU and Ransdell’s Chinese adviser and interpreter, who also went on the trip.

Pan said he also got many ideas from the trip.

“I had the pleasure of networking and socializing with directors from all over the world, exchanging ideas and sharing information that can help all our CIs thrive in the future,” he said.

Although WKU’s CI is not even a year old, it is already having a positive influence on the community, Pan said. Eleven Hanban teachers are teaching Chinese in 10 different schools in three counties, as well as at WKU.

“We are very much looking forward to the spring because we have many new opportunities planned for children and adults for community,” Pan said. “The adult classes will be aimed at those that travel to China and need some basic communication skills or simply have an interest in learning Chinese. The children’s classes will combine language and culture.”

On Feb. 15, the Xiamen University Theatre Troupe will be at WKU for a free performance of traditional Chinese music and dance at Downing University Center Auditorium at 7 p.m.

Pan said one of the CI’s biggest events of the spring will be the Grand Opening Ceremony for the Chinese Learning Center at Helm Library on May 20, followed by the President’s Gala that evening.

In recent years, WKU has seen significant growth in students from China, said Bob Skipper, media relations director.

In the fall 2005 semester, there were four undergraduate students from China and seven graduate students. By fall of 2009, those numbers had grown to 56 and 71.

Ransdell said bringing more students from China to WKU, as well as creating more opportunities for WKU students to study in China are among the many goals and benefits of the CI.

“The degree to which we internationalize our campus is the degree to which our students will be able to succeed in a global economy,” Ransdell said.

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