Program sends Americans to China to make friends across different cultures

For the fifth time in as many summers, Suzy Hampton of Missoula will visit China and its coastal city Ningbo, just south of Shanghai.

There, at a summer camp of sorts, she will help about 200 Chinese youths, ages 8-17, immerse themselves in the English language and American culture. Hampton and 14 other Americans will be their teachers.

"It gives them a chance to speak English with a native speaker, improve their English and learn about the United States," she said. "The students will also share information about their culture. The main purpose is to make friends across cultures."

Those who volunteer will never think of China the same way after they come back, said Hampton, dean of one of the 10 groups participating in the Global Language Village program.

"And people we come in contact with never think of Americans the same way," she said.

The Global Language Village program is patterned after the internationally renowned Concordia Language Villages, a program of Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn. Concordia's language "village" was created in the 1960s at Turtle River Lake, Minn., as a way to immerse American students in foreign languages and culture. It has since grown into a year-round program, enrolling more than 9,500 youths in 12 world language villages set up at Turtle River Lake. Among the languages taught are German, French, Spanish, Norwegian, Russian, Swedish, Finnish, Danish and Chinese.

The Global Language Villages in China were the first example of Concordia's concept applied in a foreign country. In China, it has grown from one village in 1997 to 10 in 2000, reaching about 200 Chinese students in 1997 and about 2,000 student in 2000.

Hampton has worked with the Chinese villages since their inception.

"I've become addicted to China," said the retired teacher. "Something about the people keeps drawing me back."

This year, Hampton is working with Missoula students to donate paperback books for the trip. The books will be taken to China and given to children learning English as a second language. Missoula students will also be asked to write a letter to the student receiving the book. The Missoula student should describe his or herself and his or her family.

In China, Hampton will use the books to simulate a bookstore that one would find in the United States. Chinese students will receive the books without cost, but go through the steps of using American money to buy the book.

At a time when U.S. relations with China are strained because of the collision of a U.S. Navy spy plane with a Chinese fighter jet last month, the Global Village perhaps may have even greater value. The Chinese pilot died in the accident and 24 U.S. crew member were held by China for 11 days. Chinese officials are still refusing to release the Navy plane which they are holding at Hainan Island.

"The kids we come into contact with are pretty much the privileged children in China whose parents are encouraging them to continue their education and who someday may be involved in Chinese government and politics," Hampton said.

"The program will come into contact with 2,000 kids this summer and these are 2,000 kids who might be involved in government in the future."

The first goal of the village is to make friends across cultures, she said.

"It's pretty hard to think ill of someone you are doing the Hokey Pokey with," she said. "And we do the Hokey Pokey ad nauseam because the language in it is easy to learn - it's body parts - and it's fun."

Hampton still has slots open for people interested in helping teach at the Global Language Village. Volunteers will spend one week as tourists and two weeks working at "the village" or summer camp. "You will be hotter than you have ever been and you will work hard, but you will be well rewarded with wonderful experiences and many new friends, both Chinese and Americans," she said.

Volunteers will receive three University of Montana credits or 45 Office of Public Instruction renewal hours.

Hampton said she has yet to feel unsafe in China as a U.S. citizen. Even two years ago, when NATO bombed the Chinese Embassy in Yugoslavia and sparked mass anti-American protests nationwide, Hampton said she didn't feel unsafe.

"The people are wonderful and extremely friendly and caring," she said. "If I had a concern, I wouldn't go."

The trip costs $1,795 and includes transportation, lodging and $240 spending money when participants arrive.

"You don't need to be a teacher to come, but you should be fun, flexible and sensitive to other cultures and open to new experiences," she said.

For more information, Hampton can be reached at 549-0081.

Reporter Jane Rider can be reached at 523-5298 or by e-mail at jrider@missoulian.com.

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