China's Confucius Institute (CI) meant to be a cultural bridge is also helping many young people in a host of countries to pick up practical skills and secure job opportunities.
This unintended contribution is largely due to its Chinese language programs, the basic part of the CI agenda to promote educational and cultural exchanges.
Built in cooperation with the local educational institution, the CI courses are also diversifying with different focuses on such subjects as traditional Chinese medicine, textiles, vocational education and Chinese music in response to local needs.
Susan Jain, executive director of the Confucius Institute of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), feels the language programs are key to giving the U.S. young people a competitive future.
"The Confucius Institute gives our fellows and students exactly what they need to enable them to compete in the international marketplace," she told Xinhua recently.
"When American kids learn languages like Mandarin and understand more about foreign cultures, it opens up all kinds of well-paid job opportunities for them and makes them better equipped to compete with applicants from other countries," Jain explained.
Speaking Chinese fluently during a CI event in late September, Charlie Hoffs, a Standford University freshperson, said her romance with Chinese started from the love of Chinese characters,
"Then I increasingly realized the language's importance in economy and tourism," she said. "China is also increasingly a rising power and is capable of navigating the business world. So, Chinese is a vital skill."
The Confucius Institute is a major teaching center for about 40,000 people in Spain who study Chinese.
"Thanks to the Confucius Institute ... Now I can explain the history of the city in Chinese," said Tour guide Ana Godoy in southern Spain's historic town of Granada, noting that the skill has led to enormous benefits in her career.
"The (Confucius) Institute opens doors. It's no longer possible for any of us, especially young people, not to be involved with China, when China plays a major role in all our futures," said U.S. theater director Peter Sellers, now UCLA professor in world arts and culture.
"Our cultures, our economies, our destinies are irrevocably intertwined," he said.
Sellers' remarks describe the economic situation, especially in participating countries of the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), where cooperation projects have generated inflows of Chinese investment and more local jobs.
It is the understanding of a number of youths in Zambia that learning Chinese can enhance their capabilities and chances to get employed.
"Very few of them take up practical skills such as learning Chinese language ... which they can use while looking for a job. That skill can later turn out to be your main job in the long run," said Lytone Chibona, a 22-year-old CI student of University of Zambia (UNZA).
Even now, competence in Chinese language has helped him and his friend Gift Kunyanda, 19, obtain part-time jobs.
"I have had plenty of job opportunities especially with Chinese-run firms in Zambia. I have sometimes gotten a job almost immediately because I speak Chinese," said Kunyanda, who is "working on being more proficient in Chinese language and culture" so that he could work as a teacher of Chinese and an interpreter in the future.
In October, 14 Chinese enterprises, including local branches of China Harbor Engineering Company (CHEC) and China Railway, visited the second job fair held by the UNZA Confucius Institute to employ young locals.
"Our business is growing with the participation of hundreds of Zambians, so we come here to recruit more skilled young workers," said Linda Yan, a human resources manager with the Chinese aviation company AVIC International.
In Belarus, Belt and Road projects have made it a trend among the young to learn the Chinese language. On her decision to work as a Chinese interpreter in the China-Belarus industrial park, Anna Aliushina, a girl in her 20s, said, "I thought this company was more attractive" than those with job offers elsewhere.
High school girl Anastasiya Solonets said she has learned Chinese for four years and will continue with a part-time study in the CI when in college, because she hopes to get a good job in the industrial park.
In Tajikistan, the craze to learn Chinese in recent years has prompted some 3,000 people a year to pursue further study in China, making China a top host country for its overseas students.
In 2017, some 6.5 million people worldwide took part in the Chinese proficiency examination for foreigners at various levels, official data showed. The examinees included a record number of 2,363 primary and middle school students in Youth Chinese Test held in November alone by the CI of Manson de Shopaa Royal Normal University in Thailand, a nation seeking growth by aligning national development plans with the Belt and Road.