CARROLLWOOD – Sure, there have a been a few tears, but there have been more smiles and new friends for the 11 students from China who are in the middle of their 45-day stay at Carrollwood Day School.
There was confusion as the kids were exposed to learning in an environment that was completely, well, foreign to them. They came over as part of the Little Diplomat Exchange Program, part of a program run by the Subject English Education Research Academy in Beijing.
The students have been acclimating to American education as well as American culture, foods and music. It’s been a whirlwind trip. They have already been to games of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Orlando Magic, and, of course, Walt Disney World. They have been invited to parties in the homes of their new American friends, and are taking back an experience of a young lifetime when they return to China on Feb. 7.
Catherine Guo coordinated the exchange program and her husband, Jay Chang, along with Chris Brown, serve as interpreters. Brown is from South Carolina but teaches in China. International Student Coordinator Alyce Peek helped get the ball rolling at CDS, and the results have turned out as well as expected.
School in China is a lot different. Chang said the kids are learning things they wouldn’t have a chance to learn in China.
“It is very different culturally,” Chang said. “They have had to learn to integrate things they’ve learned here compared with things they are used to back home. Over there, students are taught to perfect specific answers to questions and over here they learn to use their imagination.”
One example came early in the trip when a couple of the exchange students were given a blank sheet of paper and asked to draw what they felt. That was a baffling thing and some even got upset, not knowing how to fill out the paper.
“It’s been quite an adjustment,” Brown said. “They are learning that there are alternative ways of doing things and that imagination is a good thing.”
The Chinese kids had a chance to give back to their American friends when they hosted a Chinese New Year party. The American students are planning a big send-off for when the kids have to go back home.
As far as food goes, pizza and chicken wings were big with everybody.
Brothers Eddie and James Zhang – the exchange students are using American first names during their visit – said they were interested in the computer classes. Yushan Yuan liked the art classes best. Winter Wu liked the American music classes.
David Yunlong has become a huge Lightning fan during his short stay. David, 8, came to CDS with a lightning bolt shaved into his hair – it was a coincidence, but he found friends easily.
The kids said they weren’t afraid from the first day, but overwhelmed might be a better word. It helped that they were integrated into American classes and told to turn in their homework written in English. That wasn’t too much of a problem but they had plenty of help from their American classmates.
“I did a lot of reading with Peter,” Jacob Cooperman said. “They understood us better than we understand them. They also taught us a lot about their culture.”
That’s a big thing on the CDS campus right now as the students are learning a lot about other cultures in preparation for the Winter Olympics in Russia.
Peek said this will not be the last time that CDS entertains kids from far away.
“It’s a pilot program, but it worked so well we want to do it again, maybe for a longer time. It’s going to be tough to say good-bye.’’