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Thursday, December 7, 2023

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SDSU students at the Great Wall of China during a study abroad summer trip. SDSU students at the Great Wall of China during a study abroad summer trip.

Cultural Bridge

Chinese Corner promotes deeper cross-cultural appreciation.

Chinese language classes at San Diego State teach students to communicate in one of the modern world’s most difficult languages.

But Americans headed to China also need at least a cursory understanding of the country’s unique customs and practices. For that knowledge, SDSU students can turn to the Chinese Corner.

A service of the Confucius Institute at SDSU, the Chinese Corner is a biweekly collaboration of Chinese, American and Chinese American students—all interested in exploring cultural differences between the U.S. and China.

Popular destination

More than 150 SDSU students study abroad in China each year, making it the fourth most popular study-abroad destination after the U.K., Spain and Mexico.

Students choose from exchange programs with 10 Chinese universities, service learning programs in rural China or faculty-led summer programs.

A two-week summer program in Shanghai offers an in-depth exploration of Chinese history, society and business, and is led by Lilly Cheng, Ph.D., managing director of the Confucius Institute at SDSU.

The Beijing summer program, led by professor of Chinese language Zheng-sheng Zhang, is a month-long opportunity to participate in intensive language learning while touring historic sites and studying the culture of China.

Many of Zhang’s students are preparing for their summer sojourns by attending regular meetings of the Chinese Corner. Sophomore Nina Ni, a liberal studies major and Chinese language minor, will study abroad with Zhang’s group this summer. She said she wants to learn to communicate at a deeper level with her Chinese-born parents.

“I feel that culture and language go hand-in-hand,” Ni said, “and if I understood the culture in which my parents grew up, then I'd understand why certain things are said and perceived.”

Learning the language

Chinese Corner is coordinated by Hang Xiao, an international student from China, majoring in business management. She likens the group to “a cultural bridge that gives students the chance to understand each other better.”

Xiao leads the language “lessons,” in which students learn about Chinese customs, holidays and current events. After the lessons, they pair up to converse or chat with the occasional guest speaker, who often has business ties to China.

For Marco Vera, an international business major, the Chinese Corner is an opportunity to practice his developing language skills. Vera spent both 2012-2013 semesters in China at the East China Normal University.

Fluent in Spanish and English with a good knowledge of spoken Chinese, Vera has a part-time job with Destiladora Xamay, a Mexican company interested in exporting tequila to China. He and Frida Niebla, also an international business major, are co-leaders of SDSU’s Chinese American Student Organization, an outgrowth of the Chinese Corner.