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From China to LACMRERS

Posted on August 4th, 2014
Doug Schnoebelen (left) looks on as Chinese students work in the lab at LACMRERS.

Doug Schnoebelen (left) looks on as Chinese students work in the lab at LACMRERS.

Sometimes, a few words say it all: “Water touches everything.”

It’s a quote from Dwight Ma, a Chinese high school student visiting Iowa and the United States for the first time this summer. Ma is one of 12 young people taking part in “Rivers as Bridges,” an educational exchange program that brings elite Chinese students to this country for 16 days to study U.S. geography, ecology, and culture.

The students spent five days at IIHR’s Lucille A. Carver Mississippi Riverside Environmental Research Station (LACMRERS), set on the banks of the Mississippi River. Last year, a similar Rivers as Bridges visit to LACMRERS lasted just part of one day. Their extended stay opened up opportunities for more in-depth, hands-on learning.

They put the extra time to good use. Schnoebelen took the students to research sites on agricultural land in the Clear Creek watershed near Iowa City, where IIHR is part of the Critical Zones Observatory project. They saw Lake Odessa, and visited the Swamp White Oak Preserve near Conesville. And of course, they spent time exploring the Mississippi River, which plays such a major role in the history, culture, and environment of the Midwest.

Dwight.Ma says the United States is quite different from his home near Shanghai.

Dwight Ma says the United States is quite different from his home near Shanghai.

The students, who mostly come from large urban areas in China, couldn’t stop talking about the beauty of Iowa’s landscape, blue skies, and fresh air. “Here you can step on the grass,” says Annie Li, a 12-year-old from Tianjin, China. Dwight Ma, who lives near Shanghai, agrees. “It is quite different from China.”

Annie Li loves science so, much she sometimes reads science books for fun.

Annie Li loves science so, much she sometimes reads science books for fun.

Jun Wang, the group’s chaperone, also spoke admiringly of Iowa’s quiet, spacious landscape. She helps translate as needed for the students, who all speak good English, but might still miss a few of the nuances. “I do my best to explain,” Wang says. She, too, has found the trip interesting. “So many fresh things!” she marvels.

The exchange program is based on a rigorous educational curriculum. Rivers as Bridges Curriculum Director Jack Palmer explains that the students get academic credit for participating in the program. He adds that the LACMRERS component is a particularly fruitful part of the academic merit of the program, and its prominence may increase in subsequent years. “We want LACMRERS to be the center of the entire trip,” Palmer says.

Dwight Ma, who will soon be choosing a college, says the University of Iowa is one of his top picks. He says Rivers as Bridges offers participants a chance to discover what our countries have in common, and how we can forge new connections between the people of the United States and China.

“We keep the differences,” he says, “but look for what we have in common.”

To learn more about LACMRERS, visit www.iihr.uiowa.edu/lacmrers; to explore the Rivers as Bridges program, visit www.riversasbridges.org.

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