High student interest spurs new advanced Chinese course

Olivier Maombi, a 22-year-old university student who completed his Chinese language training two years ago, has landed a part-time job in Wanshun Machinery Ltd, an assembly plant and sales point for imported Chinese motorbikes. He is among a growing number of young Rwandans choosing to study Chinese through the Confucius Institute based at the University of Rwanda.

“I had a chance to travel to China after completion of the training because my two classmates and I had successfully passed the Chinese proficiency test (HSK) and when the company came into Rwanda to start businesses, we were hired to do translations,” he said.

Although Maombi is still a student in his final year at the University of Rwanda’s College of Education, he alternates his studies with work and is looking to pursue his interest in Chinese further after completing his bachelor degree.

“Balancing both work and studies is not that easy, but we manage; I come from deep in the countryside and I have to support my family, so I am glad I secured this job after the hard work of learning Chinese. The payment is not bad at all since on a good month we can pocket between US$500-600,” he said.

According to Maombi, many of his university classmates have also been able to find part-time jobs while still studying, with many working in Chinese restaurants, garment factories and construction companies, while others have been permanently employed at the Chinese embassy in Rwanda.

The growing appetite to learn Chinese is behind the recent decision by the Chinese Confucius Institute in Rwanda to offer more advanced diploma courses to accommodate students with higher ambitions in the next academic year intake. One of these is an academic course in Chinese literature and linguistics.

The Confucius Institute, which operates under the guidance of University of Rwanda, came into being in 2009 as a product of the Rwanda-Sino relationship and, more importantly, as a result of the need to serve local business people who needed basic linguistic skills to facilitate trade with China.

The government of Rwanda, through the ministry of education and under what was then the Kigali Institute of Education, signed a memorandum of understanding with Chongqing Normal University, related to cultural and language exchanges.

The institute, which started with only 60 students, has to date churned out approximately 4,000 students who have completed various levels of Chinese language training, according to officials, and many have since been employed by Chinese companies and Chinese-run projects operating in Rwanda.

According to Dr Beatrice Yanzigiye, director of the Confucius Institute in Rwanda, the advanced diploma courses will be “purely academic, unlike those currently being offered, which relate more to training and gaining of skills”.

Current courses relating to Chinese culture and language which are being offered at the institute are given at three levels: a student starts as a beginner, then later takes an intermediate and advanced level, and is evaluated at the end of the course, which can take a maximum of three years.

Yanzigiye said that students will now have to cover 300 credit units of pure Chinese linguistics and literature over a two-year period, after which they must travel to China for a few months of internship before they graduate.

“For this particular course, completing students must have the ability to speak and write perfect Chinese and signs. We are even looking forward to making use of their skills in the teaching of the language at the campus back home or in other schools where we offer the teaching of Chinese,” she said.

A signed memorandum of understanding between the two universities provides that students who are admitted to the University of Rwanda can study Chinese free of charge, while private individuals who wish to take the course only have to pay a registration fee of RWF30,000 (US$35).