UCLA's Confucius Institute and other organizations are sponsoring 52 high school students from the Los Angeles area and Tucson, Ariz., who are in China this summer as part of an initiative between the U.S. and China to significantly increase the number of young Americans studying in the Asian nation.
The students, who are visiting China for the first time, have studied Mandarin throughout the year, so this trip gives them the opportunity to apply what they've learned and immerse themselves in Chinese culture, said Susan Pertel Jain, the UCLA Confucius Institute's director. (The institute also sponsors some of the Mandarin classes students take in the U.S.)
"Students study at the East China Normal University in Shanghai and Beijing Foreign Studies University, visit a Chinese home, meet Chinese students and participate in field trips and other sightseeing activities," Jain said. "When they return to the U.S., most of them want to continue learning Mandarin and may even pursue an international career with a connection to China."
The trip is part of the 100,000 Strong Initiative announced in 2009 by President Barack Obama, who has stressed the strategic importance of the U.S.–China relationship. The initiative is designed to dramatically increase the number and diversity of American students studying in China.
Students applied for UCLA's Chinese Bridge Summer Camp through the Confucius Institute, which helps run the program with support from Hanban, an office of the Chinese Ministry of Education that supports the teaching of Chinese language and culture.
Hanban covered the costs of the China trip, except for airfare. The Kobe and Vanessa Bryant Foundation paid for the airfare of 11 students who participate in the After-School All-Stars program, a nonprofit organization that provides after-school programs in Los Angeles and other U.S. cities.
For Josué Mendoza, 17, of South Los Angeles, who attends Heritage College-Ready Academy, this is his first trip overseas. The son of a housekeeper and an electrician, Mendoza said he couldn't have afforded to travel to China on his own, and he couldn't be more grateful for the opportunity.
"It will be very helpful to know Mandarin, because I want to major in linguistics and international studies," said Mendoza, who plans to enroll at UC Santa Cruz this fall. "In South Central, we don't get much exposure to Chinese culture, so this is opportunity is really amazing for me."
Mendoza also was able to meet a special visitor on the trip — the Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant, who was visiting China last week and met with the students in the After-School All-Stars program at the U.S consulate in Shanghai.
Bryant told the students that he spent much of his childhood overseas, and that allowed him to experience and understand other cultures and broaden his horizons beyond his hometown of Philadelphia.
"I just want our youth to have the same feelings I had growing up," Bryant said.