Omaha Chinese Cultural Association partners with Nebraska businesses, Univeristy of Nebraska system


By Hannah Gill, Contributor

Nearly 300,000 American students studied abroad last year, and five percent of them went to China, according to the International Institute of Education (IEE) data for the last year. In the wake of China’s rise to the largest overseas trading partner last year, the state is building up both economic and cultural relationships.
“We all kind of look our for our interests,” Joe Chapuran, international development manager for the Nebraska Department of Economic Development.
This partnership has led the University of Nebraska system to create several programs throughout China, and it identified as a strategic priority country by the NU central administration. They developed the American Exchange Center (AEC), an innovative project, which provides internships and staff positions for Nebraska’s in Xi’an.
The University of Nebraska Medical Center agreements to extend support for visiting scholars and has a satellite office in the free-trade zone in Shanghai.
The growth has given plenty of work for local Chinese associations, including Omaha Chinese Cultural Association (OCCA).
“We do everything volunteer to provide a service for the community,” said board member Mei Li Keith. “We believe the important is the people, keep the culture, heritage, help them understand their background. Promote the culture and preserve the heritage.”
The OCCA works closely with various volunteer groups to organize larger programs. One of these is the Chinese Students and Scholars Association, which has a chapter at UNO.
“We understand how hard it was when we just came and there was no one to help,” said Keith. “It was hard, so we help them.”
The number of Americans studying abroad in China increased by over 500% in the past ten years, making China one of the top 10 study abroad destination countries for U.S. students, and one of the top 10 host countries for all internationally mobile students.
In 2012-13, China sent nearly as many students to the U.S.—235,597—as the total number of U.S. students sent anywhere in the world. Five percent of total U.S. students go to China. These numbers make China the overall largest supplier of international students to countries around the world over the past decade.
Every four years, sales by Nebraska businesses to China double. This exponential growth rate is spurred by the rapidly growing middle class.
“China’s consumer market, the middle class, has just skyrocketed,” said Joe Chapuran, international development manager for the Nebraska Department of Economic Development. “The world has never seen that many people enter the middle class at once.”
With growing purchasing power comes increased protein consumption, and this is one of the many areas of opportunity Chapuran sees.
“By the numbers alone you can see China is a good export market,” Chapuran said. “We also think it is a good place to drive investment.”
In this export market, for example, one man’s offals are another’s prime cuts. The intestines and entrails of animals are popular in China, and with the scant local market for Chicken stomach, Chapuran is helping Chinese companies establish relationships with local food processing plants.
“Everything gets used,” Chapuran said.
This is one of many win-win situations that has built economic relations between Nebraska and China. In 2013 the country passed Japan to become the the most profitable overseas trade partner, third overall behind Canada and Mexico. In import dollars China is the state’s No. 1 supplier, pushing the total trade between the economies to $2 billion a year.
The Nebraska Department of Commerce has been beefing up its offices in response, hiring an international business development director, Mindy Ruffalo, with extensive experience in China, establishing a sister city and two sister provinces, opening offices in China, and developing an international transition team of private sector volunteers.
The growth has given plenty of work for the Omaha Chinese Cultural Association (OCCA), offers translation and consultation services for Nebraska and Chinese companies, along with community programs.
“We have some of our own capabilities, but we need the OCCA as well,” Chapuran said. “They try to help both sides.”
The Nebraska Chamber of Commerce or local businesses will contact the OCCA for help arranging meetings, delegation of businessmen from China, and for recruitment assistance. This can mean anything from greeting people at the airport to sitting in on conference calls.
“We don’t got out and look for it,” Mei Li Keith, board member, said. “If they have questions they send us a request.
The Omaha Chamber of Commerce often works with Keith directly, but they have provided services for companies including Union Pacific, Conagra, Berkshire Hathaway shareholders meeting, UNMC and area schools.
“We will figure out what is happening with that project and try to recruit the business and people,” Steele said. “That is part of being a liaison trying to build that relationship between China and Nebraska.”
There are no professional translators of Chinese in Omaha, but some of the community members are certified. Keith will connect businesses with volunteers, who work out individual terms.
“We only help bridge people and businesses, we don’t make any profit,” Keith said.
The state interest in China have expanded beyond business, with the University of Nebraska Medical Center establishing a satellite office in Shanghai, and extending support for visiting scholars and study abroad programs. The University of Nebraska system has also developed relationships with Jiaotong University in Xi’an, which is staffed by Americans.
“It’s gone well beyond business and trading,” Chapuran said. “There becomes more of a need to understand culture from both sides.”
The OCCA helps by providing a context for businessmen.
“Groups like the OCCA really help because we introduce them and they showcase our Chinese community,” Chapuran said. “They get that welcoming community.”
The OCCA also appears at cultural events around Nebraska, and provides cultural entertainment through their traditional dance classes. The organization is a 501(C)3 non-profit, but unlike others, they are 100 percent volunteer.
“We do everything volunteer to provide a service for the community. We believe the importance is the people” Keith said. “Promote the culture and preserve the heritage”
Beyond business Asian-Americans, 23 percent of which are Chinese-American, highest-income, best-educated, and fastest-growing ethnic group in the United States, according to a Pew research study. Douglas county has the highest population, and in 2008 the OCCA was founded to help streamline fundraising efforts to assist earthquake victims in Sichuan.
“After the fundraising was done we kept going,” Keith said. “We were touched actually, we didn’t expect so many people to be so supportive”
Now they help coordinate organizations including the Confucius Institute at UNL and Bellevue University to provide Chinese language classes beyond the youth classes offered at their affiliated school. The Chinese Student and Scholar Association works with area students, whose Chinese students reached one-third of total exchange students across the United States.
For the largest events, including the Chinese New Year with over 4,000 participants, they are “the core” bring together volunteers, said Keith. Like their business affiliates, the OCCA welcomes anyone interested in Chinese culture to become and member and attend events.