Iowa’s sister state Hebei will house new American Cultural Center

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Thursday, October 2, 2014

The state of Iowa’s long-standing ties to Hebei Province in China will continue to strengthen with a new American Cultural Center opening in the provincial capital of Shijiazhuang next year.

The University of Iowa’s Division of World Languages, Literatures and Cultures (DWLLC) in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS), in partnership with UI International Programs and the Iowa Sister States organization, applied for funding from the U.S. Department of State to open the center, which will offer educational and cultural programming in Iowa’s sister state of more than 30 years.

“The goal is to provide our Chinese partners with an insider perspective on life in Iowa and the U.S. in order to strengthen our friendship and collaboration,” says Russell Ganim, director of DWLLC.

Situated at Hebei Normal University, the American Cultural Center (ACC) will feature a reading room and a variety of events and activities focused on American and Midwestern customs. An advisory board consisting of key administrators from the UI, Hebei Normal University, and Iowa Sisters States will oversee the center and its activities.

a group of Chinese visitors stand with their bikes
Bicyclists from Tianjin formed Team China with the Iowa Sister States for RAGBRAI 2014. A larger group from Hebei Province will participate in RAGBRAI 2015.

One of the ACC’s initiatives is to introduce Hebei students and community leaders to a uniquely Iowa event—the summer, state-wide bike tour RAGBRAI. The center will recruit and select riders to participate in RAGBRAI, who will then share their experiences through presentations or blogs.

In conjunction with the UI’s Division of Performing Arts, the center will provide cultural programming, such as music and dance performances, workshops, and presentations to the Hebei community. Year two of the grant will allow the UI to send two musicians and a small ensemble of dancers to Hebei to teach a master class.

The UI will offer mini courses through the center on an array of topics, starting in fall 2015 with an exploration of Iowa’s immigration legacy. Similar to the UI’s first year seminars, these courses will allow students to explore a subject area or cultural phenomenon in a small-group setting.

Downing Thomas, associate provost of UI International Programs, says the center will deepen the UI’s connections with educational institutes in Hebei.

“The American Cultural Center builds on our emerging educational partnerships and on the trade and people-to-people relationships that originated with China President Xi Jinping's visit to Iowa three decades ago,” Thomas says.

Xi visited Iowa in 2012 to reconnect with old friends he met during an agricultural research trip in 1985, including Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad. The governor led a delegation to China in 2013 to build upon Iowa’s special relationship with China and to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Iowa’s sister state agreement with Hebei.

Kim Heidemann, executive director of Iowa Sister States, says the ACC is a positive example of what can come out of a sister state relationship.

“Iowa Sister States views this as another partnership between Iowa and Hebei Province that will further deepen the sister state bond.This is a win-win for both sides,” says Heidemann.