Chinese language becomes increasingly popular in Lebanon: Confucius Institute director
The Chinese language has become increasingly popular among Lebanese students over the past five years, said Antoine Hokayem, the local director of the Confucius Institute at the University of Saint Joseph (USJ), in a recent exclusive interview with Xinhua.
"In the past, Lebanese students used to register for the Chinese language as an elective course. Today, we receive students from the USJ and other universities who aim to learn the Chinese language to either work in China or continue their education in the East Asian country," Hokayem said on the occasion of the 15th anniversary for the establishment of the institute.
Hokayem told Xinhua that engineering and telecommunication students are among the people who are mostly interested in the language as they aim to continue their higher education in China which is advanced in the two fields.
"Some of our students have shown great interest in continuing their education in Chinese universities to develop their skills in specific majors," he said.
Other students attend the institute's courses with a view to assisting their parents who are engaged in trade activities with Chinese partners, Hokayem added.
"We have small children who learn the language and speak fluently with their Chinese teachers ... More than half of our students now come from outside of our university," he noted.
The number of students, who have registered with the Confucius Institute since its establishment 15 years ago in Lebanon, stands at 3,982, according to the Lebanese professor.
Founded in 2006 through a partnership between China's Shenyang Normal University and the USJ, the Confucius Institute at USJ was selected as one of the best Confucius Institutes the world over for its unique cultural and social activities.
Over the past years, the institute has held lectures covering topics including China's economy and cultural values as well as the Peking Opera and the Belt and Road Initiative.
In addition to spreading the Chinese culture among Lebanese students, the Confucius Institute at USJ has also established strong ties with Chinese universities such as Tianjin University of Traditional Chinese Medicine that offers the institute great expertise in physiotherapy and acupuncture.
"The (Chinese) university is very advanced in Chinese medicine which is what we need here at USJ. Our students complete their speciality at USJ but we secure training for them at a hospital in Tianjin," Hokayem said.
For the past few years, Lebanon and China have increased their cooperation in areas of trade, medicine and culture, let alone China's great contribution to the UN peacekeeping activities in southern Lebanon.
China has recently invested millions of U.S. dollars in building a national higher conservatory near Lebanon's capital Beirut. In 2020, the two countries also signed an agreement on the establishment of cultural centers in each other's capital cities.
Hailing China's contributions to Lebanon's development, Hokayem called on the government to include the Chinese language in the Lebanese Baccalaureate program, saying it would help spread the Chinese culture in Lebanon.
"I spent some of my best moments walking in Beijing's streets and getting to know how people live, what they eat and how to speak and negotiate with them at shops," Hokayem said.
He also praised the great speed at which China has developed over the years.
"It's amazing that every time I visit this country, I see more development and changes in many different areas, especially infrastructure," he said.