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East-West Solidarity

SLUH’s Partnership with China Thrives as a Global Education Exemplar

Each year SLUH’s Chinese Lion Dance Team puts on remarkable performances, with live music, colorful costumes and undulating gesticulations. On April 26, the team entertained for an important audience – the mayor of Nanjing, China and his guests – at the Missouri Botanical Garden, in commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the Nanjing-St. Louis Sister City relationship.

“Our lion dance troupe is very popular among the local Chinese community,” says Dr. Chingling Tai, who retired in 2015 after teaching Chinese at SLUH since 1987. “They perform in a way that is professional and entertaining.”

In 1964, Principal Fr. Gerry Sheahan, SJ started Mandarin at SLUH. To this day, it is one of the longest standing programs in the Midwest – and, given China’s global influence, it is exceedingly relevant. In 1994, under the leadership of Dr. Tai, SLUH became a sister school with Nanjing Foreign Language School, one of China’s top schools. A few years later, the first two Nanjing students attended SLUH. Since then, the two schools have thrived from a reciprocal relationship that offers language education and cultural immersion opportunities.

Chinese remains an exemplar in a robust foreign language program at SLUH, which also offers Arabic, French, Greek, Latin, Russian and Spanish.

Formative Experience

When Michael Schumacher ‘93, a successful investment banker, was 13, he decided to take Mandarin at SLUH. It was a decision that would impact the rest of his life.

“I wanted to be fluent in Chinese,” he says. “The fact that I took Chinese not only helped me to get in to some of the top schools, but it has also given me an angle for businesses in my profession.”

Schumacher earned a B.A. in Economics with honors from the University of Chicago, an M.B.A. in Finance from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, and an M.A. in International  Affairs from the University of Pennsylvania’s Lauder Institute. During college, he studied Mandarin in a full-immersion program in Taiwan for more than a year.

Throughout his 19-year career, he has advised, evaluated and worked with companies and financial sponsors across various industries and sizes, completing transactions totaling more than $10 billion in value, including debt, equity and strategic advisory transactions. He started his career with Bear, Stearns & Co. Inc. in equity research and debt capital markets in New York and Hong Kong, in addition to focusing on general industrials sectors in North America and Asia as Vice President at Morgan Stanley.

“All of the companies I’ve worked with throughout my entire career have been affected by China,” he says. “Every client I touch is impacted by global supply chain concerns.”

Schumacher continues to be grateful for the foundation he received at SLUH – and for his favorite teacher, Dr. Tai. This same gratitude is shared by other alumni who learned Chinese at SLUH, an experience that has advanced their pursuits in education, medicine, social justice and religious vocations, in addition to business.

“I wouldn’t be where I’m at today without deciding to take Mandarin at SLUH,” says Schumacher.

Sustaining a Tradition

Although Dr. Tai is no longer teaching, she still organizes cultural events in SLUH’s Confucius Classroom, and she continues to serve on the Board of the Nanjing-St. Louis Sister City Committee, a role she has held for the past 35 years. Her presence is still felt in the excellence of the Chinese program, now carried on by Yude Huang, who became SLUH’s Chinese teacher after her retirement.

In 2006, Dr. Tai created a scholarship to further enhance cultural learning opportunities for selected students in the Chinese exchange program. Her generosity recently came full circle, when a former student from Nanjing who studied at  SLUH (he wishes to remain anonymous) donated $25,000 to her scholarship fund, in addition to $2,000 for the Senior Project in Taiwan and Shanxi.

SLUH’s 25-year relationship with Nanjing Foreign Language School thrives today, with students from China continuing their studies beyond sophomore year (historically, they stayed for just a single semester). In 2017, Lancer Li ‘17 became the first student from Nanjing to graduate from SLUH. He is now studying statistical science, computer science and business at Duke.

   In the past five years, Jr. Bills studying Chinese
   have won 17 awards from both national and
   local Chinese language competitions.

According to Dr. Tai, "Nanjing students are well adjusted to SLUH life. They receive so much care and love shown by teachers, classmates and host families. Their American experience is way beyond classroom and textbooks. It is people-topeople cultural exchange and enrichment. The exchange program has generated much interest and understanding of another culture, while fostering friendships and bonds that transcend nationality."

The Chinese program remains in good hands with Huang, whose knowledge, enthusiasm and passion for Chinese is evident in the accomplishments of his students. In the past 5 years, Jr. Bills studying Chinese have won 17 awards from both national and local Chinese language competitions. Beyond the classroom, students immerse themselves in the Chinese culture through the Confucius Classroom-sponsored culture workshops, Chinese New Year celebrations, Lion Dance performances and partnerships with local Chinese communities. In addition, they participate in a two-week exchange program with Nanjing, a three-week Senior Project in China and Taiwan, and a summer trip to China and Taiwan.

“I feel blessed to be a part of a vibrant program,” says Huang. “I get to know the students throughout their four years so I can see their growth, watch them strive for greatness and live to their potential to become the best they can be.”

If Fr. Sheehan were alive, he would be smiling.

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