February 8, 2015 / by Collin Reischman, Managing Editor

Saint Louis, Mo. — For the first time in their history, Missouri Boys State and Missouri Girls State sent a handful of Missouri student leaders to China as part of a broader goal for the Midwest U.S.-China Association (MWCA).

In the span of about 9 days, students from Missouri sat with U.S. Ambassador to China, Max Baucus, representatives from the China U.S. Agriculture and Food Partnership and several attorneys working for Dentons Law Firm, the largest law firm in the world.

Former Missouri Governor Bob Holden is Chairman of the MWCA, whose goal is to open up new economic, social and financial partnerships between states in the Midwest and China. Holden said the trip to China was “essential,” and said more students will have to go in the future.

“Young people who make connections and build those relationships create opportunity of partnerships going forward,” Holden said. “Helping our young men and women build those relationships for the future is incredibly important. We don’t know who will be the next President or CEO, so forging those connections early is vital.”

The four students selected came from across the state and a variety of backgrounds. Wisom Nwike, is from Kansas City after immigrating to Missouri from Nigeria in 2001. He was elected Governor of the Missouri Boys State session in 2013 and attends George Mason University studying economics.

Katherine Thompson was also elected Governor of Missouri Girls State in 2013, currently attends King’s College, and spent much of the past year visiting auxiliary American Legion locations and speaking before the convention in Jefferson City.

Haley Barbour has been involved in Missouri Girls State since junior high and was selected to represent Missouri at Girls Nation, where she also met with President Barack Obama and various legislators. Barbour is now studying at Drake University.

William Megl is a Troy, Missouri native and a senior at Westminster College. Megl is a former student body President and even servrd as the CEO for the campus’ student-run, $500,000 investing group.

The trip was an absolutely dizzying pace. In just 9 days, the group visited: The Beijing Language and Culture Univeristy, Renmin University, Beijing Foreign Studies University, Tsnighua International School, Hanban Confucius Institute, where they studied Chinese language and met with the China Youth Federation.

“Information is not simply taken in, it requires an engaged mind and a patient heart, two things I saw today as we visited the Confucius Institute and the Chinese Commercial Press,” Thompson said.

The students also visited: The Great Wall of China, Tianamen Square & Forbidden City, Dashanzi Art District, Silk Street and Jingshan Park, and the Chinese Commercial Press.

These are on top of meetings with Baucus and Dentons Law Firm.

“Never did I imagine at age 19, I would be sitting across the table from former US Senator and current US Ambassador to China, Max Baucus,” Thompson said.

Students were also given the chance to ride one of the country’s infamous high-speed rail trains. The students road the train — which reaches speeds of almost 300km/h — from Beijing to Tian Jin, roughly the same distance as St. Louis to Columbia, Missouri. The trip took a grand total of 30 minutes.

“We wanted to give them that experience because that’s one of those things we talk about back here, but not a lot of us really understand what it’s actually like,” Holden said of the train ride.

Holden said he hoped the trip would be the first of many. As Missouri Boys and Girls State continues to be a place looking to find and educate new leaders in politics and business for the region and the country, sending students to China to make broad connections both professionally and socially is critically important work to Holden, who reiterates that the world is “global” now.

“This is what it takes to be a successful part of a global world,” Holden said. “And it wasn’t always like this. For about the first 200 years of our history it’s been about improving and growing within our own boarders. But now we’re looking outside of those boarders to the bigger world.”

The Missouri Times