BANGOR, Maine — What began as a groundbreaking educational exchange program between schools in Maine and China is expanding to include school principals.
And if some medical professionals in Bangor have their way, it soon may grow further to include health care personnel.
Six school principals from two middle schools and four high schools in various Chinese cities and a team leader from the Heilongjiang Education Exchange Center were touring five schools and the Bangor City Hall on Monday and Tuesday.
The first educational and cultural exchange involving principals between China’s Heilongjiang Province and Maine through Bangor’s Chinese Learning and Cultural Center is the direct result of an expanded five-year exchange agreement between the U.S. and China.
“This is the first year the U.S. and China have agreed to share funding for the program, which will increase the number of scholarships,” said Jing Zhang, the Bangor center’s executive director.
This is the seventh exchange program for students and third for teachers.
Dr. Howard Jones, director of occupational health services for Eastern Maine Medical Center, joined former City Councilor Gerry Palmer, Superintendent Betsy Webb and City Manager Cathy Conlow at City Hall on Monday to welcome the delegation and provide information about Bangor’s government, civil and school structures.
Jones sees the program’s expansion as a great opportunity for Bangor’s medical community to start an exchange for physicians, pharmacists and physical therapists to learn more about Chinese and Western medicine.
“Most people my age in China do not speak English and most people my age here don’t speak Chinese, so the children are a great vehicle because they’re the first generation coming up with a common language, and now the opportunity for the adults to go and start to exchange is excellent,” said Jones, who said he hopes to start medical exchange visits as early as this summer.
This week’s trip is a whirlwind one for the Chinese principals as they will divide up and visit Bangor, Orono, John Bapst Memorial, Stearns of Millinocket and Hampden Academy over a two-day period.
Monday’s principals delegation visit comes on the heels of last week’s Bangor visit by a few officials representing China’s Consulate General in New York and the Heilongjiang Education Department.
Chang Quansheng, the new consul for the Consulate General of the People’s Republic of China in New York, credits outgoing Consul Wang Ying for the program’s rapid expansion.
“He grew the trees and I get to enjoy the shade and the fruit from those trees,” said Chang. “It’s a lot easier for me because he has done quite a good job.”
Last month, China’s Ministry of Education designated the Chinese Learning and Cultural Center as a Confucius Classroom, giving it international recognition and resources including grants to teach the Chinese language in Maine.
“In 2004, there was only one Confucius Institute, and now there are 76 across the United States,” said Wang, who is returning to China after seven years of service as consul in New York. “My job is to be a bridge between the U.S. and China and I have worked in the education office to fully support all the programs we have for students on both sides for studying, getting to know each other, and making friends.”
Tian Chunfang, director of education for the Province of Heilongjiang, was impressed with the results of the seven-year cooperative relationship between her province and Maine and also was impressed with her tour of Bangor last week.
“Maine sent a group of students last August to Harbin and now we know each other and have some basic cooperation,” Tian said. “This year we have a formal contract with Maine schools and the culture center to further cooperation with the student and teacher exchange.”