Shenji Pan is helping to plan a big celebration for the Chinese New Year. In fact, the party is so big it’s outgrown its previous digs at Woodruff Auditorium in the Kansas Union. It’ll be Sunday at the Lied Center, which seats more than 2,000 people.
Pan, a Kansas University junior from a small town near Shanghai in China’s Jiangsu province, said more than 900 of the event’s free tickets had already been spoken for, and he expected a larger crowd than that for the celebration featuring songs, dances and performances from Chinese and western culture.
“It’s a dragon year, so it’s a big year,” he said.
The growing Chinese New Year celebration corresponds with a rapidly growing Chinese student population at KU and across the country.
Joe Potts, director of international student and scholar services for KU, has seen the growth firsthand. In 2005, KU had about 30 undergraduates from China. This fall, there are more than 650. In all, 895 students from China were enrolled in fall 2011. India is second with 163 students.
He attributes that growth to three main factors. First, he said, the growth of the Chinese middle class has allowed for a greater number of families to afford sending their children overseas. Second, the educational capacity in China isn’t keeping up with the demand. And, he said, the United States has made it easier for Chinese students to obtain visas in recent years as China’s development has continued.
“There is less concern that students will stay here,” Potts said.
The sheer volume of people living in China — more than 1.3 billion — also plays a role, Potts said. A small-percentage increase in students studying abroad means a lot more individual students than a similar percentage increase in other countries.
Pan, president of the Chinese Students and Scholars Friendship Organization, has worked with other groups inside and outside campus to plan the new year’s festival. It’s scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Sunday (in China, as in the United States, New Year’s Eve is almost a bigger celebration than the actual day itself). Pan said the theme of the event is “One World, One Dream.”
The event is open to the public, and free tickets are available at the Lied Center box office.
Pan said the event would be something like a variety show, with performances from the KU Concert Choir, KU Jazz Band, the Kansas City Chinese Music Ensemble, the Silk Road Dance Academy and a kung fu master.
Pan has helped obtain several funding sources for the event, including support from KU’s Student Senate, Coca-Cola, Garmin and T-Mobile. Clubs in Kansas City and other universities have partnered in support of the event.
The tickets may also be registered for online at greaterkc-cny.com. That website also has additional information on the festival at the Lied Center and other events for the Chinese New Year.
Potts said that for many international students, the experience of going abroad helps them get in touch with elements of their cultures that they may not have fully understood before.
When everyone around you is doing something, it’s easy to just go right along, he said. But in a far-off country, when no one does those things and someone asks about them, a student might have to go look up the reason why. They’re often eager to share their knowledge with others, too.
“It’s a very personal thing, some of these programs, for international students to do,” Potts said.
Potts said, in addition to the growth in student services at KU for the students, he also relies on the help of local families from Lawrence. Many of them will pick up students from the airport and provide a host of other services, too.
Dave and Darla Hosek, of Lawrence, have hosted several international students in their home, many of whom stay for shorter periods over breaks when KU residence halls close. They also host meals and other gatherings for international students.
“When you talk to a lot of these kids, it seems a lot different from the way their countries are being portrayed as,” Dave Hosek said.