Chinese students get a taste of the U.S.

By Michelle Martin
Sunday, February 21, 2016

Chinese students get a taste of the U.S.

Chen Xin Yu and Xia ya Han do activities centering on the Chinese New Year with seventh-grade classmates at St. Robert Bellarmine School on Feb. 8. (Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)
Fe Ke Hao colors a sheet during class. (Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)

The best thing about school in the United States? The days are short, according to three Chinese students who recently spent time at St. Robert Bellarmine School, 6036 W. Eastwood Ave., and the atmosphere is relaxed.

“Homework is less and the lunch is better,” said Xia Ya Han, who went by the name Alice while in Chicago. “We play a lot of games in PE.”

“We can go home early and go to school later,” said Chen Xin Yu, who was called Audrey by her St. Robert classmates. “And we have recess.”

Xia and Chen, along with Fe Ke Hao, all 13, traveled from Wuxi, a suburb of Shanghai, to Chicago with Culture Exchange Academy, a company that facilitates the process for international students, mostly from East Asia, who want to study in the U.S. and U.S. students who want to study abroad.

They came because they and their families wanted them to improve their English, Chen said, and they stayed with host families who speak no Mandarin. They have managed to communicate with their host families, as well as classmates and teachers, using their English with occasional help from hand-held electronic translators and Google Translate.

Carrie Mijal, St. Robert’s principal, said the school decided to participate to expose its own students to another culture, while making the point that children from different parts of the world are not so different.

“The first day they were here, if you would have put them in St. Robert uniforms, you wouldn’t have been able to tell them apart from our students,” Mijal said, adding that the Chinese students seemed to have no trouble figuring out and joining in playground games.

Mijal learned about the program from fellow principals at St. Viator and St. Pascal schools. It was such a success in its first year that parents at St. Robert were already asking about hosting students next year, Mijal said.

The Chinese students said their school at home holds classes from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Chen and Xia, who will move on to secondary school next year stay on from 6 to 9 p.m. for extra studying.

That information came as surprise to the St. Robert students.

“They think our school is very long,” Chen said.

Seventh-grade teacher Colleen Burzynski, who has all three students in her homeroom, said they also seemed surprised at the level of familiarity between students and teachers. Burzynski said they came at busy time, with both Catholic Schools Week and the Chinese New Year taking place during their visit.

Burzynski tried to incorporate information about Chinese culture into her students’ lessons, by, for example, having her students read a book that referred to the practice of foot-binding. The American students were initially confused, but the Chinese students understood immediately.

The students attended mostly seventh- grade classes, with Xia and Chen moving to eighth-grade for math. Fe, who went by the name Ender, seemed to understand the seventh-grade math, Burzynski said.

“He shows me his notebook, and it’s almost a relief that we can both read the numbers,” she said.

The students also brought schoolwork from home, she said. When she gave her students time to complete assignments in class, they pulled out their own notebooks, she said.

In addition to going to school, the students had time to visit downtown Chicago, Northwestern University and the Baha’i Temple in Wilmette.

Asked what they would tell their friends in China about the United States when they go home, the students said they would talk about all the sports, and the food.

While they liked the school lunches at St. Robert better than the school lunches in China, the food reviews were not universally positive.

“Everything is too salty,” Chen said.

“And there are no vegetables,” Xia said.


  • catholic schools
  • st. robert bellarmine

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