Greg Goodnight

Mayor, educators heading to sister city Dongyang for culture, recruiting

Officials from Dongyang, China -- Kokomo’s sister city -- have made three trips to the City of Firsts over the past two years. Now it is time for Kokomo to pay a visit.

Mayor Greg Goodnight will lead a delegation of educational and business leaders on a trip to Dongyang from Oct. 25-30, and the hope is the Kokomo contingent will return with new commitments for cultural and educational exchange.

“We established a sister city agreement with Dongyang about two years ago, and they have made three visits here,” said Goodnight. “It is now our chance to honor the commitment and make a visit.”

Goodnight said the delegation travelling to China is focused primarily on education, with seven of the 12 delegates coming from the Kokomo School Corp. and Indiana University Kokomo. Three delegates will come from the business sector.

Kokomo School Corp. Superintendent Jeff Hauswald will be one of three delegates from the school system. He explained that the trip has many facets for his school.

“The primary goal is to establish the international relationship,” said Hauswald. “Our goal having them here was to teach them about us and what we have to offer. Now we want to grow the relationship. We have an educational partnership with them; they want to partner with four of our schools.

“So, we have a relationship between our international schools and four of their highest performing schools. At this point, we’re learning about each other’s cultures. The most effective way to build beyond that is to allow some of our teachers to visit their schools.”

This will not translate into Kokomo students studying abroad in Dongyang, however.

“There are cultural and language barriers for student travel, and then there is the time and distance,” said Hauswald. “As we roll out our international exchanges, we have been looking for places a little closer with a little less cultural change.”

That doesn’t mean that Chinese students will not be welcome to come to Kokomo. On the contrary, Hauwald hopes to make that connection during his visit.

“Our real purpose is we will meet with an agent while we are there, and we will try to recruit students,” said Hauswald. ”We want to make available a limited number of spots for their school districts so their students can attend here on a F1 visa.

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“We are willing to talk to parents and students while we are there and provide them with the information to apply for Kokomo High School.”

Kokomo is the only school in the region able to recruit international students on F1 visas, which are issued through the U.S. Consulate.

Those who are concerned about the cost of sending school officials overseas can rest assured that the funding comes from grants and a recruiting fund so that no tax dollars are used, Hauswald explained. In fact, if all goes as planned, the trip will end up being a cash-positive affair for the local community.

“Actually, if you do the math, if we recruit five students on a trip, that’s about $100,000 in direct investment in the community, plus what they spend while they’re here,” said Hauswald. “But more than the economic benefit, we see great value in bringing multiple cultures into our community.

“Kokomo High School is greatly benefitting from our international efforts. We have students from 15 countries attending the high school. We want to bring the world to our students.”

Goodnight echoed this desire to expand the cultural boundaries of the local community.

“We want to make our city a more open community and embrace diversity,” said Goodnight. “This more of a cultural trip for us this time. When they came here, we showed them around the community and introduced them to our way of life. I expect to do the same while we are there.

“The idea is to embrace the world. We want to be connected, and this is a part of it. We want to be a welcoming community.”

However, there are economic advantages for the city in the excursion. The potential for investment is there, though the results may not happen overnight. And, again, education is at the center of the process.

“We’re looking at the potential for investments well down the road,” said Goodnight. “As a concrete example, there is a Chinese aluminum extrusion plant in Lafayette -- Nanshan America Advanced Aluminum Technologies. They were looking for a place to locate in the Midwest, and the person who had a role in making that decision went to college at Purdue. They came to Lafayette and invested $100 million and added 150 jobs.

“The relationship was developed through education and brought benefits years later.”