The first Israel studies program at a Chinese university will begin its academic semester this fall.

The program, which is to launch in Chongqing at Sichuan International Studies University is aimed to encourage more Chinese students to study at English-speaking programs in Israel.

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Sino-Israel Global Network and Academic Leadership partnered with the university to start the program.

SIGNAL, an independent nonprofit organization that works closely with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Israeli embassy in Beijing, as well as the Israeli consulates in Shanghai and Guangzhou, was formed to enhance China’s and Israel’s strategic, diplomatic, cultural and economic relationship through academia.

The first step to instituting the program at SISU was to invite guest lecturers from Australia, the US and Israel to give introductory seminars, lectures and workshops on Israeli history, culture and literature.

Dr. Fu Xiaowei, director of the Center of Judaic and Chinese Studies at SISU, organized the program in China.

“The student body had no awareness of something called Israel Studies. We needed to create enough understanding for them to want to pursue it as a course of study,” said Carice Witte, SIGNAL’s founder and executive director.

Amos Nadai, Israel’s ambassador to China, traveled to Chongqing in April 2011 to officiate the launch for the Israel Studies Program with the first student essay competition on Israel.

Essays were submitted by 75 students, and the awards will be presented at a ceremony in October.

Dr. Wu Bing, the first professor for the program, completed his studies at Brandeis University on a Schusterman Scholarship for Israel Studies training.

With a grant from the Diane & Guilford Glazer Foundation, two additional SISU lecturers will study for a semester at Bar Ilan University, before returning to China to teach.

In addition to the courses, there will be ongoing lectures throughout the semester by Bing, in cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

There will be a symposium at Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya in September for high-level scholars from China and Israel.

Similar programs are in various stages of development at other universities in China, including Shanghai International Studies University, Henan University and Shehezi University.

Through the Israel Studies programs in China, SIGNAL hopes to encourage Chinese students to study abroad in English-speaking programs in Israel.

“While there are currently only short-term exchange programs [in Israel], SIGNAL aims to put Israel on the map in China as a national venue where students are sent to study abroad in English,” said Witte. “There is currently a misconception that is a very dangerous place, and this is a message that we have to overcome.”

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