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A taste of culture

(China Daily)    10:56, July 25, 2018

Teenagers from Europe learn to play the hulusi, a traditional musical instrument of the Dai ethnic group in China, at a recent summer camp in Beijing. [PHOTO BY XING WEN/CHINA DAILY]

Students of the Confucius Institute in different countries get a flavor of China through summer camps in Beijing, Xing Wen reports.

On Thursday night, laughter reverberates in a classroom at the North China University of Technology, where dozens of foreign teenagers sit in rows, learning to play the hulusi, a traditional musical instrument of the Dai ethnic group in China.

The music class is a part of this year's summer camp, You and Me, in Beijing which is organized by the Beijing Foreign Studies University for students of Chinese from the Confucius Institute in Hungary, Belgium, the United States, South Korea, Austria and Bulgaria.

The teacher, Sun Yanan, teaches the foreign students how to play Auld Lang Syne on the flute-like instrument.

"With the folk instrument they get a basic knowledge about China's ethnic groups and some idea of Asian music," says Sun.

She adds that everyone is also given an instrument to take back home so they can spread Chinese culture after the camp ends.

Gergana Slavcheva, a Bulgarian student who is in China for the first time, says: "I really like it. And though it is confusing for me because I'm bad at music, I will practice at home and maybe get the hang of it."

The 16-year-old registered as a student at the Confucius Institute in Sofia two years ago because she wanted to get exposure to Chinese, an ancient language that may be the base of some other languages in Asia.

"That's why I decided to join this summer camp to get to know China better and establish contact with people who share an interest in the country," says Slavcheva.

The students get some tai chi lessons. [Photo provided to China Daily]

For Leonie Sajdik, the tour to Beijing is a reminder of the four and a half years she spent here when her parents worked in the city.

And that probably explains why the 16-year-old Austrian speaks Chinese in a Beijing accent.

"I really like Beijing as it boasts a rich heritage," Sajdik says.

"And the camp is a perfect chance for me to be in a city where I grew up."

Sajdik says she may apply for a Chinese university as her family thinks highly of the prospect of a China education.

The camp, a 10-day event initiated in 2008, offers foreign high school students an opportunity to visit museums, historic sites and Chinese families, practice calligraphy, paper-cutting or Chinese martial arts, and sample local cuisines like Peking roast duck.

Speaking about the camp, Mark van Couwenberghe, a board member of the Confucius Institute in Brussels, who has served as the leader of the Belgian group at the camp for the second time, says: "The schedule is very diverse."

And he believes the summer camp is better than a traditional class environment as the students get hands-on experience of traditional arts and crafts, and can build friendships with their peers from different cultural backgrounds.

"Their social skills also develop because they learn as a group," says Van Couwenberghe.

"So, everyone goes back home not only with knowledge but friendships that they can maintain for the rest of their lives."

He adds that the students who are taking part in the camp have already attended a number of workshops at the Confucius Institute in Brussels to have been exposed to Chinese Culture in anticipation of the tour.

"So, I hope they can open themselves up more to experience the culture, then comprehend both the differences and the common elements between China and Belgium," says Van Couwenberghe. 

The students get some tai chi lessons. [Photo provided to China Daily]

This year, about 60 households in Beijing volunteered to be host families in the program.

Jin Yu, a Beijing resident and mother of a 17-year-old, has hosted four foreign students over the past two years.

And as part of her duties she has driven the students from the camp site to Liulichang Culture Street where stores sell Chinese paintings and calligraphy.

Speaking of how she got involved in the program, she says: "I volunteered in 2016 because I wanted my daughter to communicate with her foreign peers in a relaxed way, and show the visitors the lifestyle of a Chinese family."

Jin says she hoped that the exchanges can prepare her daughter for possible overseas studies in the future.

The BFSU summer camp is just one of a series of activities sponsored by the Confucius Institute Headquarters, or Hanban.

On July 18, a bigger summer camp of 760 foreign students, organized by Hanban for the Confucius Institute in central and eastern European countries, kicked off in Beijing.

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Web editor: Liang Jun, Bianji)

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