NORMAN, Okla. (AP) _ Twelve years ago, Ming Chao Gui moved his family from San Francisco to Norman with a vision.
Gui had a one-semester visiting professor's contract, but did not see his new Chinese and Linguistics teaching job as a temporary position. Rather, he saw it as a chance to build a stronger Chinese program at the University of Oklahoma.
``There was only 14 students _ one class, one level,'' Gui said.
Lack of students is no longer the problem. Gui, who is now an associate professor, said the interest in Chinese has grown so that all entry-level courses are full and students continue to call and ask him if they can enroll.
``Now, we have 150 students,'' Gui said. ``We have four levels of Chinese courses.''
Gui said the program's expansion reflects the greater focus on Chinese culture with more Oklahoma students, schools and businesses. High schools want to offer language courses. Businesses want to learn about etiquette in China. On the other side, Chinese businesses such as Nanjing Automobile Corporation are taking an interest in Oklahoma.
``It probably has a lot to do with the job opportunities,'' Gui said of the increased interest. ``The government _ all of those intelligence agencies come to our campus to recruit. The ROTC offers scholarships to students who will study Chinese. Public schools are offering Chinese courses.''
While Oklahoma's Chinese program recently expanded to offer a Chinese major in 2005, it has been around for 27 years. However, it is more than just learning a language. Students majoring in Chinese must study abroad, as well as learn about literature and history.
``(Employers) are not just looking for students who can speak Chinese, but students who understand the culture,'' Gui said. ``You have to know them well enough to deal with them.''
This fall, the program will have its first graduate. The program also hosted its first Oklahoma Chinese Competition in April for college and high school students. Two students who are both pursuing Chinese minors, Amanda Garrett and Tristan Adler, competed in Beijing for the fifth annual Chinese speech competition, the first time the university has had representatives in this competition.
``The university is very proud of the recognition given these two outstanding students,'' said Oklahoma President David L. Boren. ``Their selection is also a credit to the excellence of the faculty and staff who work in our Chinese language and Asian studies programs.''
The program even started offering night courses for area businesses interested in learning about Chinese culture, including how to greet and ask questions, as well as how to reserve hotels and call taxis.
``There is no language requirement for the course,'' Gui said. ``The emphasis is on the conversation with business topics.''
Gui said the Nanjing assembly plant and partnership with OU is a great sign for the future of the Chinese program at the university.
``It means they trust OU and believe that we have what they're looking for,'' Gui said.
He said he hoped it also showed how China and other countries are expanding worldwide.
``It's a very good education, too,'' Gui said. ``They just set a factory in our state. It's a symbol to show the drastic changes of the outside world.''