The USF sophomore was the only American among the top five first-place winners.
By Barbara Melendez
USF.edu News Writer
TAMPA, Fla. (Aug. 10, 2010) – Dressed in red robes and wielding a sword, University of South Florida sophomore Victor Florez triumphed as one of five first-place winners in a world-wide Chinese language competition.
The effort - which began in June at USF’s Confucius Institute, took him to Houston and on to China - was against the world’s top Chinese language students under the age of 30.
Florez’s final performance on Aug. 8 was an episode from the Chinese movie “Hero” and can be seen here.
The Chinese Bridge competition, held annually since 2002 in China, showcases college students from around the world for their talents and understanding of the nation’s language and culture. Florez became the sole representative from the United States to join fellow winners from Vietnam, Belgium, Russia and Canada. The top prize went to Stewart Johnson, a contestant from Great Britain.
Florez, who has been studying Chinese for just two years, found himself being cheered by crowds in what resembled episodes of American Idol. Hoisting photos of him and his name on posters, fans rooted for him in three competitions in China where he was required to perform different speeches and performance pieces. He also had to participate in skits – singing, dancing, acting and even rapping – using his relatively, recently-acquired Chinese language skills. Those skills impressed judges all the way through to the end.
“Victor represented USF very well,” said Victor’s principal teacher, Eric Shepherd, Department of World Languages professor of Chinese. Florez performed on Hunan Satellite TV with 11 other finalists, and finished in the top six.
“The judges raved about the difficulty level of Victor's tongue twister, in particular one judge who is a well-known professional performer. One tidbit especially fun for me: Victor beat the other finalists from the U.S., including a master’s student from another university,” Shepherd said.
Kun Shi, the new director of the USF Confucius Institute, worked with Shepherd on the institute’s Hanban/Confucius Institute Headquarters-sponsored teacher training project in China before coming to USF and credits him with playing a large role in Florez’s success.
“All of the other contestants have studied longer and I think this shows that Dr. Shepherd’s teaching methods are very effective,” said Shi. “I must say, his (Victor’s) language skills are impressive but it was also the way he managed to express himself along with his non-verbal communication skills that impressed the judges.
“I think this is a big deal for USF because this prize carries great prestige for any institution,” Shi said. “Victor outdid contestants who have studied Chinese much longer in the top-rated Chinese language programs. I think everyone will look at USF in a new light from now on.”
Florez and the other first-place winners were awarded three-year scholarships to any university of their choice in China and free round-trip transportation between their home countries and China.
Barbara Melendez can be reached at 813-974-4563.