Delaware to grow Chinese study abroad program

 Governor Jack Markell (left) and Wanxiang Project Manager Daniel Li sign a memorandum of understanding to expand the company-sponsored study abroad program. (Avi Wolfman-Arent, NewsWorks/WHYY)

Governor Jack Markell (left) and Wanxiang Project Manager Daniel Li sign a memorandum of understanding to expand the company-sponsored study abroad program. (Avi Wolfman-Arent, NewsWorks/WHYY)

Delaware will send up to 30 high school students to China each of the next two summers, thanks to money from a Chinese business with local connections.

Wanxiang, China’s largest auto parts manufacturer, pledged $675,000 to fund the study abroad program through 2017. This past summer, Wanxiang paid for 20 high school students to spend four weeks at the company’s facility in Hangzhou, China. Thursday’s announcement deepens the company’s commitment.

And that’s not Wanxiang’s only connection to the First State. In 2014, the company purchased a shuttered auto plant in New Castle County.

“I am grateful to Wanxiang and [China General Chamber of Commerce] for their partnership and for their commitment to Delaware’s efforts to increase innovative language learning opportunities and make ours the most bilingual state,” Gov. Jack Markell said in a statement.

Markell has pushed hard to expand language education in the First State. About 2,300 Delaware students are now enrolled in either Spanish or Chinese immersion progams thanks to his World Language Expansion Initiative. Markell hopes that eventually about a tenth of the state’s students will be in language immersion settings.

The confluence of educational and commercial interests gave Thursday’s announcement more symbolic heft than one might expect from a minor expansion of a small study abroad program. The press conference included remarks from Markell, the CEO of Bank of China USA, and the president of the 100,000 Strong Foundation, a nonprofit backed by Barack Obama that seeks to better U.S.-China relations through language education. Also on hand were a gaggle of reporters from Chinese state media.

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