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August 14, 2012

APPLETON, Wis. -- A first-of-its kind student foreign exchange is connecting Chinese and American culture, conservation and commerce in hopes of creating sustainable river systems and communities.

Students fishing
Visiting Chinese students fishing near Eagle River.
WDNR Photo

A dozen Chinese teachers and 24 students from that country's most elite high schools and their chaperones spent 18 days in the Midwest in late July and early August. Their visit marks the start of a 10-year relationship between the people of the Mississippi and Yangtze river basins. The program, called Rivers as Bridges, is designed to tie together cultural differences with environmental similarities in a hands-on learning environment.

Chinese students toured universities, camped, fished, swam, and completed service projects in Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin. They did scientific work through field research, wet labs, and experiments involving air, water, biology, soil, fisheries, wildlife and wetlands. Students from the United States will participate in similar experiences in China.

Student presentation.
DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp listening to final presentations of their group projects.
WDNR Photo

"What remarkable work these students have done in such a short period of time," explained Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Secretary Cathy Stepp, "I am extraordinarily impressed by their ability to recognize similarities in our countries' environmental challenges and willingness to work together to tackle tough issues facing both China and the United States."

At a Lawrence University event in Appleton, Secretary Stepp awarded certificates from the Northland Pines School District in Eagle River that recommended each student get a high school credit for work during the study event. Students prepared posters on natural resources topics and friendship and had to explain the posters in English.

Chinese visitors on a tour of Devil's Lake State Park.
Chinese visitors on a tour of Devil's Lake State Park
WDNR Photo

Rivers as Bridges is a multi-year project that responds to Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping's call for imaginative approaches to bi-lateral relationships. He visited Iowa in February and spoke to an Iowa delegation that visited China in June.

Chinese parents paid for the trip which is also supplemented through in-kind and private donations. The Environment and Public Health Network for Chinese Students and Scholars organized the event. More information about the program can be found at

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Jeff Smoller - 608-266-1117

Last Revised: Tuesday, August 14, 2012

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