After-school Program in Lower Manhattan: China Institute

Meet Shenzhan Liao, Director of Education, School of Chinese Studies at China Institute

By Anu Kapur, Publisher, Lower Manhattan Macaroni Kid February 7, 2024

Shenzhan, please tell us a little about yourself and your background.

Originally from Chongqing, in southwest China, I also consider myself a New Yorker after living in New York for over a decade. For the past 10 years, I have been with China Institute to design and manage educational projects, classes, and events for kids, teachers, and the general public. I feel really passionate about helping others to learn more about China, its language, culture, society, and people. As someone who studied anthropology and education in New York and Beijing, my role with this organization is a dream come true. 

China Institute was founded in 1926, could you brief us on the Institute’s history.

China Institute’s unique history started with some very forward-thinking scholars in both China and the U.S., including American philosopher John Dewey, and Chinese scholar, former Ambassador to the U.S., Hu Shi. At a time when very few Americans knew anything about China, they advocated to build China Institute to advance a deeper understanding of China, through a “China Foundation” fund. That mission hasn’t changed for China Institute since then, even after more than 90 years. 

What are the different enrichment classes offered at China Institute? How are the classes structured?

Our classes sparkle, sustain and advance a life-long learning community of New Yorkers and others from toddlers to adults. Our Mandarin Munchkins are for toddlers and their caregivers during the day to have interactive and engaging activities in an immersive Chinese context. After-school classes for kids 4 and up provide a structured curriculum for them to advance their Mandarin Chinese over time, and provide the academic support as needed. Students typically come to the classes on a weekly bases for 1.5 hours each week Monday to Friday, or for 3 hours over the weekend. Every week, over 20 classes for various ages and language levels are offered at our downtown (40 Rector Street) and Upper East Side (Lex. and 65th Street) location. 

Our instructors, all trained to teach Chinese as a second language, are native speakers and proven teachers who understand early childhood education and how to engage with American audiences.

We would love to know more about your summer camp.

Summer is one of the best times of the year to be a kid! From July 8 to Aug 16, parents can choose to sign up for 1 week, up to 6 weeks, for half-day or full-day programs at our China Institute Summer Day Camp! Kids are divided by their age, and language level. In the morning, teachers lead language classes with games, projects, and a curriculum developed around carefully selected themes. Afternoons are inspiring cultural activities ranging from cooking projects, arts and crafts to STEM. Friday mornings are dedicated to field trips to many of the fun sites throughout New York City.  

China Institute also has classes for adults. Please could you give us an overview? 

We aim to bring the wide scope of culture and arts for adults to sample, learn and enjoy. China Institute’s School of Chinese Studies offers more than 30 classes to choose from, including language, classical and modern literature, calligraphy, brush painting, the ancient game of Chinese Go, meditation, tai-chi, etc. In addition to weekly classes, during which students typically come to the Institute for two hours each week, there are intensive classes that are twice a week for three hours each time. We are known for the high quality of the classes offered by our language and cultural experts, and more than 90% of adults who sign up for one class come back to take a second.

There are often parents who take classes alongside their kids to make learning a family affair!

What kind of family events do you host at the Institute?

China Institute moved to Lower Manhattan four years ago with the goal of doing more for the families of New York City. From our classesevents and art gallery that together illuminates a variety of Chinese culture, arts, music, education, and business, we offer a variety of programs and initiatives for families throughout the year. 

On February 10, we will hold our annual Chinese New Year Family Festival where we open our doors to families to come experience a lion dance, live music, and workshops on dumpling and lantern making!

What does the future hold for China Institute? How do you see the Institute growing in our community?

We are excited to be part of the neighborhood and the ongoing transformation of downtown Manhattan. With the classes, art exhibitions, programs and events offered at China Institute in language, culture, art, business, humanities, etc. we see the organization as a hub for anyone who has an interest in learning more about China. Arts, language and culture are the best ambassadors for mutual understanding. By raising awareness of areas of cooperation and overlap, we hope to contribute to a better understanding of what brings us together and opportunities for collaboration as opposed to contributing to a challenging climate of divisiveness. The goal is to help generations become more engaged and open-minded about one of the world’s richest cultures!

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