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Foreign visitors look forward to volunteering at First Night

Sunday, December 31, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 10:58 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Five visiting Chinese scholars have signed up to be First Night volunteers as children’s art teachers, assisting younger children with art projects and cleanup.

As English educators in China, they hope their interactions with Americans during the annual festival will improve their English and give them a glimpse of U.S. culture.

The five teachers — who arrived in Columbia in mid-November — are colleagues at Chongqing Institute of Technology in the Chongqing province in western China. Two are associate professors and three are lecturers in English education. The group is spending three months in Columbia as research assistants at MU’s College of Education.

“It’s our first time to live in America,” Zhaoyuan Zhang said. “We really wonder what the First Night is like.”

Organizers are expecting 13,000 people at this year’s First Night celebration in downtown Columbia and neighboring Stephens College. Leigh Nutter, volunteer coordinator for Columbia, said more than 90 people have signed up to volunteer at this year’s ballroom gala-themed festival.

“This year is the best shape we’ve ever been in,” Nutter said.

Hong Luo and Bo Wen said they looked for volunteering opportunities through MU’s Asian Affairs Center when they heard about First Night.

The group is excited about First Night, but they have some worries, too.

“Frankly speaking, our listening comprehension is not good enough to catch every word of the Americans,” Wen said. “Most Americans know we are foreigners and usually slow down their speech. But the children would not be considerate enough to slow down for us.”


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