Eric Garrett has always been intrigued by China, due in part to his family's fireworks business, K-10 Fireworks.
Now, thanks to a Kansas University grant, he'll be able to see the country known for fireworks production firsthand.
"It's a different world over there," he said. "I think Americans are blind to East Asia. Learning more could only help us with business affairs."
Garrett is one of 25 KU students who will travel to East Asia next year thanks to a $2 million grant from the Freeman Foundation. The grant also will pay for more KU faculty and for programs connecting rural Kansans with their counterparts in East Asia.
The grant will make it possible for 100 KU students to travel to Asia for three-week trips over the next four years.
The first group of students will travel in May, with nine going to China, nine to Japan and seven to South Korea. They were picked through a process that involved writing an essay. Ninety-four students applied.
While in Asia, the students will sightsee and meet business leaders. When they return, the students must complete 20 hours of community service, teaching Kansans about what they learned.
Brynn Harris, a sophomore from Leavenworth, said she chose to go to China to explore international business.
"China is huge in business recently," said Harris, an accounting major. "If I could speak Chinese and be a business major, I'd have it made."
Bill Tsutsui, associate professor of history, hopes the program will encourage more students to study East Asia.
"We want to get new blood in the field," he said. "We think the future is in Asia economically, politically, across the board. America's ties with Asia are increasing. We've seen that with nuclear weapons in North Korea and the explosion in Bali. We need to wake up to the fact that China is going to be a serious economic competitor for the United States."
Tsutsui said the grant also would fund the Kansas/Asia Community Connection, which will teach Kansas farmers and businesses how to market their products in Asia.
The grant also will help pay four new faculty members involved with KU's Center for East Asian Studies and allow more courses in Asian culture and language. Two of those faculty members will be hired this year, he said. The other two likely will be hired next year.