A celebration of the Chinese New Year on Sunday officially welcomed Missoula to the Year of the Horse.
More than 200 people packed the UC Ballroom at the University of Montana for an event to mark the Lunar New Year, which occurred on Friday. The celebration, put on by the Confucius Institute at UM, has been an annual event since 2009. The Confucius Institute helps to bring the language and culture of China to students in grades K-12.
Abraham Kim, director of the Mansfield Center at UM, said during the introduction at the event that the learning of a foreign language and about a foreign culture is a lifelong endeavor, and the younger a person is introduced to global education, the better.
UM President Royce Engstrom also took the stage to offer a few words about the University’s commitment to learning about foreign cultures, and his own recent trip to China in December, the first time he had visited the country.
“The University of Montana has an intense focus on global education. In fact, the plan for the University is called building a university for a global century,” he said.
The Confucius Institute is one part of that focus.
Engstrom said while there are more than 400 Confucius Institutes in the world, and about 80 in the United States, UM’s is one of the few in the Western half of the country.
“We reside in a community that supports this global focus. A community that is very interested in what is going on globally,” Engstrom said.
The event also included a video message from Senator Max Baucus, who is awaiting a confirmation vote to become the next U.S. ambassador to China. He said the United States-China relationship is one of the most important bilateral relationships in the world.
“I am committed to strengthening the diplomatic and economic ties between the U.S. and China,” Baucus said.
After the introductory remarks were made, the event included a series of performances by local grade school and high school students, with songs sung in Mandarin by students from Paxson Elementary School, a dance performed by the Rocky Mountain Ballet Theater, calligraphy by UM student Lei Haomin, and more.
“For the parents of these kids, these performances are better than any Super Bowl,” Kim said. He delivered his statements in English, with Suhan Chen, director of the Confucius Institute at UM, providing Mandarin translations.
Kim said the interest in China is a testament to the importance of global education.
“The study of Chinese has become more popular among American students, particularly those studying business and law,” he said.
The Mansfield Center helps to organize foreign exchange trips that not only send people from Missoula to China, but bring Chinese people on visits here as well.
Chen said the students were very excited to be able to perform the things that they had learned about Chinese culture for their parents and the community. With Baucus likely to become the next ambassador, she said she hopes to see an even stronger relationship between China and Montana in the future.
This year in the Chinese Zodiac will be the Year of the Horse.
“The horse signifies hard work, but it also brings good spirits. It’s about going out there and chasing your dreams, and working for the things you want,” Chen said.