A program that sends Delaware high school students to China to learn firsthand about the culture, language and science and engineering sector has been extended and expanded, thanks to grants from Chinese businesses.
It is the latest in the state’s push to teach more students foreign languages and better prepare them for internationally competitive jobs.
The China Study Abroad program started this summer with 20 students. They were hosted by Wanxiang Group, the country’s largest auto parts manufacturer, and got to observe the company’s work on biofuels, geothermal energy and other scientific projects.
Many of the students said the most rewarding part of the trip was touring Chinese cultural sites, like the Great Wall and Temple of Heaven, and their daily interactions with locals.
“Being out and talking with people on the street was my favorite part,” Jared York, a Caesar Rodney High School student, told The News Journal when he got back to the U.S. “I was a little nervous when we started because of the language barrier. But I actually found it surprisingly easy to talk with them.”
Gov. Jack Markell last week announced that Wanxiang and the China General Chamber of Commerce committed to continuing the program through at least 2017. They also expanded its scope from 20 students to up to 30.
Students who are interested in the program can contact Gregory Fulkerson at [email protected] or at (302) 735-4180.
“We appreciate the opportunity to build on our partnership with Delaware, which has emerged as a leader in providing world language education, specifically Chinese language opportunities, to students,” said Daniel Li, project manager for Wanxiang.
Delaware knows Wanxiang as the company that acquired the former General Motors plant on Boxwood Road in Newport after the troubled Fisker Automotive failed to produce its hybrid-electric Karma sedan there.
Markell’s administration has tried to make it a priority for students to learn a second language, in particular Spanish or Mandarin.
There are currently 560 students statewide who are learning Mandarin in the state’s foreign language immersion program, in which students in the youngest grades spend half their day learning in English and the other half learning in either Mandarin or English.
The goal of these programs is to give students a competitive edge in an increasingly globalized economy.
Markell isn’t the only U.S. leader calling for programs like this. In 2009, President Barack Obama called for the U.S. to send 100,000 students to study abroad in China by 2014.
The country surpassed that goal, according to Carola McGiffert, CEO of the 100,000 Strong Foundation, a nonprofit established to help grow the number of students studying in China and learning Mandarin.
“The relationship between the U.S. and China is the most important bilateral relationship that exists in the world today,” McGiffert said, pointing out the two countries’ dominant economies and central roles in battling terrorism and climate change. “We must make sure we’re preparing the next generation of leaders to strengthen that relationship.”
In September, Obama set a goal of 1 million students learning Mandarin within five years. That means a five-fold increase from the 200,000 students who are studying it now.
McGiffert said her organization sees Delaware as a model for how other states can help meet that goal.
“Thirty kids may seem like small number, but that’s 30 students who are talking to their parents, their relatives and their classmates,” McGiffert said. “It’s creating the momentum we need. And it’s creating an example for other states that, frankly, is remarkable.”