After more than 80 hours of traveling, 10 Chinese students are enjoying American culture in Mount Airy.
One Chinese student, Jeffrey Hu, and Mount Airy High School 10th-grader Owen Perkins explained how the exchange program worked to the Surry Sunrise Rotary Club, which met at the high school on Wednesday morning.
The Chinese students and their American hosts were also at the Mount Airy Rotary Club’s noon meeting on Tuesday.
On Wednesday, the two read the same speech, except Owen read it in Chinese and Jeffrey read it in English.
Jeffrey said all of the Chinese students who made the journey to Mount Airy want to attend college in the United States. They took a seven-hour bus trip from Hefei, China, before boarding their first plane. Eventually, the group landed in Greensboro.
Since their arrival in Mount Airy, they have been attending classes at Mount Airy High School, and host families have been showing them the local culture.
The presentation drew questions from the Rotary members who assembled Wednesday.
“What has been the biggest surprise about America?” asked N.A. Barnes.
Jeffrey said he was surprised by how the education system differs from the Chinese system. Students at Mount Airy High get to choose what classes they attend, while those in China are assigned their classes.
Polly Long, who helps administrate the exchange program for the city schools, said in China students begin taking tests in their junior high school years. The tests help determine what route a child’s education will take. Those in the program which prepares them to attend college in the United States are top students.
Long noted a day for a Chinese student is long. They take about 14 hours of classes per day, and the students who traveled to Mount Airy filled their 80-hour trip with homework.
Rachel Chen teaches the students at Hefei Number 1 High School, which has about 6,000 students, many of whom live on campus in dormitories. Long said Chen is staying with her, and the Chinese teacher is busy every evening assigning homework to her students back in China.
Dr. Kim Morrison, Mount Airy superintendent, noted the strength of the university system in the United States attracts many Chinese students.
Jeffrey said it is his dream to study at an American university. However, when that education is complete he plans to return to China.
Long said preparing for such an adventure begins at a very early age in China, as the kids begin learning English in their primary school years. For Jeffrey and his peers, all classes they attend at the high school level are taught in English.
Owen explained hosting Chinese students is only half of the exchange program. Every year, students from Mount Airy get the opportunity to travel to China to be submersed in that culture.
“This program gives our students the opportunity to learn and grow without using our money,” said Morrison, noting many businesses are quick to offer funding for the exchange program.
Morrison said the program fits well with the initiatives of the city schools, which are placing special emphasis on science, technology, engineering, arts and math curriculum and offering a global education.
She touted a Spanish immersion program in younger grades, but said in grades six through 12 there is a focus on Asian culture. The end result is growing an understanding of other cultures and languages among Mount Airy’s students.
“It’s a really nice partnership,” said Morrison of the exchange program.
Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.