PARIS — A student exchange trip to China this spring for 20 Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School students has been postponed because of a lack of money.

Principal Paul Bickford realized the money allocated for airfare was not enough to cover travel both ways.

“We are moving the anticipated student trip to China to the spring of 2025,” Bickford said in late April. “We will organize the group this spring and start fundraising efforts this summer and fall. The cost per student is in the range of $4,000, so fundraising will help defray expenses.”

The exchange program with Zhejiang Normal University Middle School began in 2002, with teachers from China residing in Oxford Hills to teach Mandarin classes to high school students. The program came to a halt during the pandemic, but officials from Jinhua reopened a dialogue this winter with Bickford and educator Craig Blanchard, who has been its lead coordinator since its inception.

“We look forward to the opportunity to visit our sister school in Jinhua, China next year and also to visit some historical sites,” Bickford said.

When the proposal came before Maine School Administrative District 17’s board of directors in February some directors were leery of sponsoring student travel to a foreign country with strained relations with the United States, especially in light of U.S. State Department-issued travel advisories to mainland China.

However, board Vice Chairwoman Kitty Winship of Waterford urged members to support the program. She was one of the participants in 2002.

“Visiting China was life-changing for me,” she said before a vote to approve the trip Feb. 5. “For 20 students to receive an all-expenses-paid invitation is the opportunity of a lifetime.”

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