COLUMBIA — It was a confusing cultural moment, even by U.S. standards.
But imagine you’re from Inner Mongolia, China, attending your first baseball game ever, on a beautiful Saturday in July, and you’re handed a Santa hat at the gates.
For a group of government officials from Inner Mongolia, getting a taste of American culture at a Royals game in Kansas City, it was just one strange experience among many. They entered the gates of Kauffman Stadium along with other groups from MU’s Asian Affairs Center, and were handed Santa hats decorated with Royals monograms. Salvation Army bell-ringers and a band playing Christmas tunes welcomed them next.
The theme of the night’s game was Christmas in July, of course.
Welcome to the heartland.
Attending the game were about half of the 18 delegates from the autonomous region of China. The Asian Affairs Center is hosting them in a three-month program to learn about the U.S.
For those who chose the baseball game over a trip to New York City, it was a singular way to learn about the idiosyncrasies of the culture. Some things were lost in translation, including the crowd doing the wave and the concept of innings. But the consensus from the Inner Mongolians at the end of the game was that it was “good” and “interesting.”
Liu Haipeng, vice director of the personnel department of Inner Mongolia, didn’t need words to express his excitement. He cheered and danced after a game-winning home run by the Royals’ David DeJesus. Then again, he danced when the opposing team’s Ichiro Suzuki got a hit.
With the help of a translator, Li Chunguang, deputy secretary general of Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region People’s Government, said the group’s experience in more than two months so far has been significant. He explained that it is difficult for the leaders of the government to take off so much time in a foreign country to explore things such as the economy, politics, culture and daily life.
Sang Kim, director of the MU Asian Affairs Center and the Missouri International Training Institute, said the government of Inner Mongolia has chosen Columbia as a training base in 2005 and 2007, as well as this summer.
“Inner Mongolian Government had been sending its officials to the East and West Coast areas of the U.S. before they were being sent to Columbia, Missouri. It was OK for them to go to those urban, international cities but they weren’t getting a whole lot of true American experience, according to the feedback I heard from the organizers,” Kim said.
Not only does Columbia offer a unique taste of the U.S., the program sponsored by the Asian Affairs Center also offers diverse educational opportunities for the group of officials.
“The program is a combination of classroom learning and hands-on field trips and professional site visits,” Kim said. “In the classroom, they learn a lot about American English and culture, and also there are a series of global leadership, public administration-type seminars throughout the program. Toward the end of the program, to confirm what they have learned in the classroom, they go to different agencies of Missouri.”
The government of Inner Mongolia funds the trip to improve the region. Those chosen to come to the training program at MU are usually promoted when they return home, said Kim.
“They may not see a whole lot on the federal level, but these are provincial officials so what they see and learn here apply to their work back in the Inner Mongolia autonomous region,” Kim explained.
Li Shaohua, board chairman of Xizhuozi Mountain Grasslands Cement Corp. in Inner Mongolia, said through a translator that he was impressed with the way the local government makes money work, using a little to do a lot. He also appreciated its willingness to listen to the public’s opinions.
Kim put into words an idea that resounded with many in the group, that their presence in Columbia is evidence of “glocalization” — globalization at a local level. For example, the group’s visit allows Americans to learn about Inner Mongolia without having to travel to China.
Many members of the group said they see the benefits of this process. Chunguang said he hopes more Americans will travel to China to both learn a culture and share theirs, playing a role in the glocalization process.
Glocalization received a vocalization when members of the group did as they always do when they end a party: They sang a traditional song after a casual dinner at the Memorial Union.
As Kim joked to the group, it’s not over until the fat lady sings in America, but it’s really not over until the Inner Mongolian sings.