Back from China, Delaware students share experiences

     Sussex Tech student Trevor Roe (left) presents a project based on his time in China. (Avi Wolfman-Arent, NewsWorks/WHYY)

    Sussex Tech student Trevor Roe (left) presents a project based on his time in China. (Avi Wolfman-Arent, NewsWorks/WHYY)

    For the first time this year, 20 Delaware students traveled to China cost-free.

    When is a student study abroad trip more than just a student study abroad trip?

    How about when the governor of Delaware, a state lawmaker, and a high-level representative from China’s largest auto parts manufacturer personally welcome the students home?

    That was the scene Thursday in Newark, Delaware, as Governor Jack Markell, State Representative Earl Jaques (D-Glasgow), and Daniel Li from the Wanxiang Group honored 20 Delaware high school students who recently completed a one-month summer program in Huangzhou, China.

    Those 20 students made up the inaugural cohort of the Delaware Summer Chinese Language Initiative for Communicating STEM (LInCS) program. They spent four weeks in Huangzhou studying at the Wangxiang Group’s facility, where they bolstered their Mandarin, explored Chinese culture, and learned about China’s green energy sector. And they did so thanks to a $450,000 grant from the Wangxiang Group, which now owns a once-bustling General Motors plant near Newport, Delaware.

    For Governor Markell, the LInCS program occupies a sort of uncanny mesh point between some of his highest-priority initiatives.

    Markell has been a strong proponent of expanding STEM education and language offerings in Delaware schools. Four years ago, he kick-started a language immersion program where students spend half the day learning in either Mandarin on Spanish. That initiative now has 2300 students spread across 16 school-level programs. The Governor has also made a point of courting international business to Delaware, as evidenced by a recent trade mission to Germany.

    In speeches, he returns often to the theme of making Delaware, and its students, competitive in an increasingly global economy. It’s a topic he brought up again at the Thursday gathering.

    “The fact is companies have more choices than they’ve ever had before for where they locate, grow, and hire,” Markell said.

    The Governor, who mentioned that his college-aged son studies Chinese, called the LInCS program a “unbelievable opportunity” and said that students who master a foreign language will “really have a leg up” in a fast-changing job market.

    Though the students on hand appreciated the geopolitical implications of their four-week excursion, their takeaways were far simpler.

    Madison Northshield, a senior at Conrad Schools of Science, relished the opportunity to travel abroad for the first time. She was surprised at the openness of Chinese society. “Obviously it’s a Communist country, but it didn’t feel like it,” she said. “It felt like people were doing what they wanted.”

    Others, like Middletown High School junior Nathaniel Li, smiled wide at memories of the food–which was of course nothing like Americanized Chinese fare. Plus, Li said, it was a rare opportunity to immerse himself in Mandarin.

    “It’s impossible to learn Chinese just staring at a textbook,” he said.

    Asked what they’d remember most about the trip, many from the Delaware cohort recalled time spent with students who attend the Wangxiang school. The groups taught each other slang words–some unsuitable for print–and bonded over a surprisingly wide swath of similarities.

    “They all still procrastinate on homework,” said Li. “Just like us.”

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