MUSCATINE — A Chinese company’s $300,000 grant will give more than 20 high school and college students from Muscatine the chance to study in China for four weeks this summer, likely changing their lives — and maybe one day, the world.

Local officials joined with their Chinese counterparts last week at the Muscatine High School auditorium to sign a memorandum of understanding for the planned study program, which will be paid for by the Wanxiang America Corp. The company, which manufactures auto parts and green energy products, does $2.5 billion in business annually in the U.S. and $16 billion worldwide.

According to the company, one in three vehicles on the road in the U.S. uses its parts.

The study program is part of the U.S. State Department’s 100,000 Strong Initiative begun by President Barack Obama in 2009. The initiative encourages American students to study in China.

Those people signing the agreement before a crowd of almost 100 people were:

n Zhao Weiping, China’s Chicago-based consul general

n Pin Ni, president of Elgin, Ill.-based Wanxiang America Corp., and the company’s project manager, Daniel Li

n Sarah Lande and Tony Joseph of Muscatine, and Muscatine Mayor DeWayne Hopkins

n Educators Bob Allbee, president of Muscatine Community College, and Bill Decker, Muscatine Community School District superintendent.

The MCC and Muscatine High School students who will make the trip have not yet been selected. Once they arrive at Wanxiang University in China this summer, they’ll study Chinese language, history and culture, as well as renewable energy science.

According to Hopkins, Muscatine edged out several other communities to land the coveted agreement.

Pin said his company got the idea to fund the program after a 2011 visit to the plant by Chinese president Hu Jintao. The president “encouraged us to take the lead more in U.S.-China relations,” Pin said.

And it probably didn’t hurt that China’s next president has ties to Muscatine. Xi Jinping, then an agriculture official from Hebei Province, visited Muscatine in 1985 and returned, this time as China’s vice president, in February 2012 to visit the “Old Friends,” a group of local residents he met during his first trip.

“We want it to be a meaningful program and not just a vacation,” Pin said. “We want students to bring back something they can hold onto for five, 10 or 15 years.”

Lande, one of the “Old Friends,” called the opportunity “a passport to the future for our young people.”

“(Xi) will be proud,” she said, “to think we’re the America he envisioned.”

Zhao, the consul general, called Muscatine “a symbol of China-U.S. friendship” and suggested Muscatine visitors to China use their hometown as a calling card.

“It’s a wonderful, legendary friendship,” he said.

Allbee noted that MCC students and faculty have been involved in international affairs and studying abroad for more than 80 years. “They’re life-changing experiences meant to get you outside your comfort zone,” he said. “When the students return, they’ll become our teachers. The power of kindness and friendship should never be under-estimated.”

After the talk, Sibya Honts, a 16-year-old MHS sophomore who’s in her first year of Chinese-language classes taught by Carol Kula, said she plans to apply to be one of the 16 or so MHS students to study this summer in China.

“I feel it’s important to see different cultures, and I think it would help out with my job plans” in the business world, she said. “I like what I heard. I think it’s a great program.”

Decker said the high school students who are thinking about applying “probably don’t understand the depth of learning possible. … Hands-on and project-based learning opportunities like this one are the way to learn that’s most effective.”

“The world is a different place now, and you can’t learn how it’s changed from a book.”