Europeans adapt to a new word order
Chen Hsiu-yin teaching Chinese at the French-speaking Institut de la Providence de Champion. The 165-year-old school added Chinese classes in 2011. Liu Ge / for China Daily
Increasing demand for Chinese classes stems from surge in Sino-EU trade relationship, reports Tuo Yannan in Brussels.
Instead of entering a university after his graduation from high school next year, Kieran-Jack Costello will travel to China alone and spend a year exploring the world's most-populous country.
From the perspective of a Chinese family, his decision would be considered wild or crazy, but instead, the 17-year-old who lives in Belgium has the full support of family and friends. Some admit they envy him.
"My school hasn't introduced Chinese classes yet, but we have French, German, Dutch and Japanese," said Kieran-Jack, who spends three hours a week learning Chinese in his spare time to prepare for his adventure.
"I think going to China for a year is a very good opportunity before the university. I'm excited about putting my Chinese into practice!"
Kieran-Jack's strongest supporter has been his father, Nicholas Costello, deputy head of unit at the European Commission's department for employment and social affairs. That's hardly surprising, because Costello senior was posted to Beijing several years ago and speaks Mandarin well. He believes his son's generation will benefit from the ever-closer ties between Europe and China.
"China has become much more connected with the world economically and is now the EU's second-biggest trading partner, so speaking English and Chinese in the 21st century will be a very big advantage," he said. "It's not only the language, but also knowing the culture, especially acknowledging and accepting the differences, that's the most important thing".
Costello's family isn't unusual by any stretch of the imagination, even though Kieran-Jack's background - Brussles-based, with a father from the UK and mother from Africa - is almost a template of diversity.
The number of people enthusiastically learning all they can about China is increasing dramatically in Europe, especially in light of the country's increasing influence on the global economy.
Europe has often repeated its commitment to open trade relations with China, most notably in the increasing efforts across the EU to improve communications with the country. One of the most striking changes of recent years is the number of officials and employees that have started learning Chinese.
"The main purpose of providing Chinese classes for EU employees and officers is that we want to promote the relationship between China and the European Union, commercially and culturally," said Anna Varna of the European Commission's human resources and security department.
The increasing demand for Chinese classes is associated with the surge in Sino-EU trade relationship, said Varna. China is the EU's second-largest trading partner, after the United States, and the EU is China's biggest trading partner.
In 2012, EU investment in China reached more than $6 billion, while $3.4 billion went from China into the EU, according to official data.