The students participated in Rivers as Bridges, a program developed by the non-profit Environment and Public Health Network for Chinese Students and Scholars, to compare and contrast the Mississippi River with China’s Yangtze River.
Xiaodong Kuang, executive vice president of the network, said the Madison, Wis.-based organization was developed in 2006 by a group of Chinese doctorate students from American universities. The group’s goal is to bring experts and government administrators from the U.S. and China together to share their experiences and knowledge.
Rivers as Bridges, a 10-year program now in its first year, is designed to bring students from both countries together to exchange information and collaborate.
“We need to unite people from different disciplines to work at integrative solutions,” said Kuang. “We believe that is the way environmental problems will be solved.”
On Monday, the students came to the Fairport Fish Hatchery on Iowa Highway 22 to learn more about the similarities between their country’s Yangtze River and the Mississippi River.
The learning took place at the University of Iowa’s Lucille A. Carver Mississippi Riverside Environmental Research Station, where students learned more about measuring water quality using technological devices.
“This is about $10,000, but I’ll trust you to use it,” said station director and research engineer Doug Schnoebelen, holding up a water sensor during a Monday morning class.
The students also spent time outdoors collecting water samples from a research station pond with Tammie Krausman a Resource Enhancement and Protection coordinator for the Iowa DNR.
“I like this training center,” said student Youyi Sttl, 16, of Xian, China. “The grasses are very beautiful.”
Sttl said she and her peers study U.S. culture and learn English.
“I just feel comfortable here,” she said.
Later, the students visited the Muscatine home of Sarah and Roger Lande.
In February, the Landes hosted Chinese vice-president — and presumptive president — Xi Jinping. In June, the couple joined a group of Muscatine residents who, along with Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, journeyed to China at Xi’s invitation.
Student Yufei Zhao, 16, of Wuxi, China, said she enjoyed learning more about the environment in Fairport.
In addition to the scientific facts Zhao was gleaning during her class time at the Research Station, she also appreciated another aspect of the great outdoors — one that many Americans haven’t been so fond of lately.
“I like the temperature here,” she said of Monday’s 95-degree weather. “In China it’s much hotter. And I like the blue sky. In China, we seldom see it.”
Experiencing American culture first-hand was an added bonus.
“I like Western food,” said Zhao.
Later that day, the students visited Muscatine’s Agricultural Learning Center where Muscatine High School FFA students took them on tours of their vegetable gardens, crop land and animal barns.
“This is all done by the students,” said 2012 MHS graduate Tiffany Peterson. “It gives us education in what we need to do.”
The Chinese students also took tours on hayrack around the Learning Center grounds.
“It’s neat telling people about what we do here,” said MHS junior Erin Lagone. “The Chinese students seemed really interested in what we had to say.”
The group also sampled a slice of life on the Mississippi River, courtesy of the Landes, Tom and Ann Meeker of Muscatine and Happy Joe’s, as they capped off the day with a cruise on the Meekers’ Pearl Button paddle wheel boat and dined on pizza.