BANGOR, Maine — Student exchanges between the United States and China are playing a vital role in relationships between the two countries, and more exchanges should be done, according to speakers at the ninth annual Maine Chinese Conference.
Cen Jianjun, education counselor of the Chinese Consulate in New York, was the keynote speaker at the conference held at the Dyke Center for Family Business at Husson University on Friday. Several area city and education leaders attended the conference, including Bangor City Council Chairman Nelson Durgin.
Cen said the two nations can work together in harmony, and education is the key to making it happen.
“U.S. and China should be very friendly in the future,” he said in front of a crowd of about 50 people. “We can live in harmony, work shoulder to shoulder and put our heads together.”
The two nations have very different social systems and values, he said, but a way to overcome those issues is through student exchanges.
“Germany and France fought each other for many years. They had become enemies,” said Cen. “Fortunately in 1963, French and German governments sought agreements in culture. Since 1963, they established student exchange programs. In 2003, when French and German governments sat together at the 40th anniversary, to their great surprise, a total of 80 million French and German students learn each other’s languages.
“We can see that student exchanges are very fundamentally important. It’s the key to world peace,” he said.
Nancy Mullins, Maine Department of Education’s director of English as a second language and bilingual programs, said 13 Chinese language courses are offered in public schools in the state, up from just three a decade ago. There are 18 total schools that offer Chinese language courses when accounting for private schools, she said.
There are also 255 students in schools who have Cantonese or Mandarin as their primary language and is the language spoken at home.
“We do have this win-win situation where we need to start valuing what students bring to the classroom, as well as valuing the ability to understand and embrace another culture,” said Mullins.
“We should expand the student exchanges,” said Cen. “Let more American students learn the Chinese language. Let more Chinese students learn English. If you ask me to comment on the U.S. [and] China education exchanges, I would say that yesterday was good. Today’s better. Tomorrow might be even best.”