University students travel to China for free

By Heather Schlitz, Contributing writer

A group of 20 University students will travel to Hangzhou, China this summer to take classes and work on green technology as part of the Wanxiang Fellows Program, an agreement between Wanxiang, an automotive parts manufacturing company, and the University system.  

Wanxiang began creating programs under the 100,000 Strong Initiative, announced by former President Barack Obama and former President Hu Jintao in 2009. The initiative aims to send 100,000 American students to study in China in an effort to build relationships between the citizens of the two superpowers.

Pin Ni, president of Wanxiang America Corporation, says that although American and Chinese economies are integrated, it’s in the interests of both countries to build interpersonal connections.

“A comment we get often is that it’s an eye opening experience,” he said. “China is very different from what they expected it to be.”

China, a country whose GDP per capita lagged behind India 30 years ago, is now the second largest economy in the world and is poised to overtake the United States in the next decade according to the World Economic Forum.

“It’s absolutely incredible to see how China is developing and how rapidly it’s developing and the construction that’s going on everywhere,” said Ed Seidel, vice president for economic development and innovation for the University system. “It’s a very exciting place to be.”

Although details have not yet been finalized, Pradeep Khanna, interim director of international engagement for the Office of the President said that the program will be a great international experience, with all costs will be covered by Wanxiang.

“The main purpose of the program is to introduce students to Chinese culture and work on green technologies,” he said.

Ni sees investment in renewable energy as a practical business strategy, with Wanxiang America having already acquired two bankrupt American companies specializing in renewable energy: A123 systems, an electrical car battery maker, and Fisker Automotive, a hybrid sports car manufacturer.

Wanxiang Fellows from other universities have received lectures on solar energy and clean energy development as well as taken field trips to visit Wanxiang company headquarters and their clean energy production plants.

The fundamental goal of creating connections between America and China is never far from mind. Ni said there is emphasis on absorbing Chinese culture as well as working on developing clean energy. Each American student takes Chinese classes, visits cultural sites, and is paired with a volunteer Chinese student ambassador.

On his seven day visit to China and other East Asian countries, Seidel said the University is held in incredibly high regard by Chinese businesses, universities, and local government officials.

“People were very welcoming, and we had a really wonderful visit,” he said. “We had a really heartfelt welcome from different groups that we met.”

With a Chinese international student population of over 5,000, the University is the top destination for Chinese students in America.

“(The Wanxiang Fellows Program) is trying to work on the other side of that, to not just have Chinese students being educated at the University of Illinois (system) but to have American students from our University visit China,” Seidel said.

The Wanxiang Fellows Program is open to undergraduate and graduate students across all colleges and University campuses. Fellows with an interest in Chinese culture and green technology will be selected through a competitive application process in the springtime.

Ni said this will be an opportunity to learn about green technology and take part in cultural exchange with the people from one of the most dynamic areas in the world.

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