China Champions Program continues

Twelve U students volunteered to help the athletes become better acclimated.

Melissa Steinken

Chinese athletes visiting the University of Minnesota for a year can expect Thanksgiving dinners with host families and buddy programs to acclimate them to U.S. culture.

The University of Minnesota’s China Champions Program has begun its second year with changes to accommodations for the athletes. The program — which welcomes Chinese Olympic athletes to learn sports management, business and English at the University through the School of Kinesiology — will include University-sponsored English classes, additional language practice, host families and a buddy program.

The program’s purpose is to introduce the athletes to coaching, nutrition, training and sports management, said School of Kinesiology Associate Director Rayla Allison.

Eight Olympic athletes and one Olympic-level coach from the Beijing Sport University will participate in the program this year.

“Last year was our first year, so we do not have much experience handling things,” said Sandy Wang, executive secretary of the China Champions Program.  

But now, program coordinators have a better idea how to manage the program so the athletes receive practical experiences, she said.

While coordinators still have to finalize some event details for this year’s program, athletes last year toured behind the scenes of a Minnesota Timberwolves basketball game, ate lunch with Gov. Mark Dayton and attended a Minnesota Wild professional hockey game, Allison said.

Participants will also sharpen their English skills in a required course through the Minnesota English Language Program, she said.

Additional volunteers will also help athletes with extra language practice and conversational skills, Wang said.

 “This is giving them a chance to be a little more acclimated,” said Sylvia Lovett, program director for Connexions International, which will assist the athletes with their language skills.

Twelve University student volunteers have also agreed to help support the program and ease the athletes’ transition, Allison said.

The University’s Chinese Student Association has created a buddy program to help the athletes navigate campus and get acclimated to life in the Twin Cities, said Wen Ren, a Chinese Student Association volunteer.

“These Chinese champions need friends here,” he said. “We just provide the friends for them.”

This year, all the Chinese athletes are matched with a member of the association, while last year four or five were matched to one, Wen said.

Next week, each athlete will enjoy a Thanksgiving dinner with host family.

Although a late arrival of the athletes this year stalled the process of planning community-sponsored events, University students involved in the program identified areas that could use improvement, like more diverse activities and better preparation for the participants before they arrive in the U.S., Wang said.

 “Every year we have some issues,” Wang said, adding that cultural difference around cooking and food can lead to confusion. “For now, that is the only thing we encountered.”