East Kentwood High School is in need of host families for Chinese students from the Weiming Education Group. The partnership between the Weiming Group and East Kentwood is in its second year; the first year’s pilot program being highly successful. Families are needed to house the students during the school year and provide them with the opportunity to learn about American education and family life.
The Weiming Education Group is the largest, private education service provider in China. Their focus is on extending the reach of education with a global perspective. Parents choose to send their students to the Weiming School because it offers opportunities for their student to study abroad, learn English, and have the ability to live and interact with a local family. The CEO of the Weiming Group applauds the program’s goal as “relationship building” between our two nations.
East Kentwood High School will host 20 Chinese students, including 5 returning students (Krystal, Harry, Bill, Victoria, and Jean—their chosen American names) for the 2014-2015 school year. Most students are juniors and seniors. The returning students will also have the ability to take classes at Grand Rapids Community College, as well as receive a diploma from East Kentwood.
Evan Hordyk, Executive Director for Secondary Education in Kentwood, explains, “Being the second year of hosting the Weiming group will be much easier. The returning students will be a great resource.” Hordyk also introduced Erin Wolohan, who was hired as the International Student Coordinator at Kentwood Public Schools. Working as an English Language Learner (ELL) interventionist last year, Ms. Wolohan worked closely with the Weiming students. This year she will be much more involved in planning and supporting social events for the visiting students, as well as trouble shooting transportation and other issues.
John Keenoy, East Kentwood High School Principal, and his wife, Missy, hosted “Harry” in their home last year. “I was very reluctant to host a student,” Keenoy admits. He claims he had many excuses; his jobs at the principal of the school, both of his children being heavily involved in sports, and a very busy schedule. Now, Keenoy proudly smiles as he relates, “Harry is my Chinese son.”
“It was a great experience,” claims Missy Keenoy. The Keenoys have no problem with having Harry come back to stay with them this fall. With their own son heading off to college, they are opening to taking two students this year.
An informational meeting was held on July 29, 2014, with the host families from the 2013-2014 school year. There was much laughter and shared enjoyment as they recounted the learning experiences and fun they had during the year. “They are no trouble at all!” exclaimed Angela, “They are easier than your own kids; they even do their own laundry.” Most agreed that the East Garden Buffet was a favorite amongst the students.
Pam Jackson, who hosted “Bill” as their 12th foreign exchange student explained, “Your view of the world is totally different” after being a host family. Her children gained valuable insight from having students from across the globe stay with them. “You know someone in areas of the world that are in the news. It makes it more personal.”
“East Kentwood is a very globally diverse school boasting students from 50 countries, speaking at least that many different languages. When my children went to college they were used to diversity and there was nothing surprising about people from different cultures or backgrounds.”
With modern technology it is very easy for the students to keep in touch with friends and family. Even with the 12-hour time difference, host families can Skype with Chinese parents. Instead of just being a relationship between the student and the host family, both families become attached. Relationships are built and visits can be arranged for the Kentwood families to travel to China.
What does it take to be a host family? An open heart and an open bedroom. The Weiming students have their own money for expenses and the host family receives a stipend to cover food and other expenses.
The students generally have taken 9 years of English and have to pass an English proficiency test to qualify for the exchange program. Even so, they understand more than they can speak. Paula Zokoe and her husband hosted “Victoria” in their home. Victoria is returning this fall and they are open to having a second student as well. In order to emphasize English learning in their home, as well as to increase the communication among family members, Paula stated, “We employed an ‘English only’ rule, “with Victoria only able to communicate in Chinese after 9 p.m. each night.
Last year the students enjoyed attending football games, touring Saugatuck, Chicago, and the Lake Michigan shore. It was especially fun to introduce them to the holidays of Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and the American celebration of birthdays. Although these students enjoying experiencing the life of an American student, they are very studious and spend much of their evenings in their rooms. Hordyk explain, “They are used to boarding school life in the Weiming School. In China their school day can go from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Unlike most foreign exchange students these students are here for the education not the social experience.
No matter the differences in cultures, above all the Weiming students are typical teenagers. They like technology, they love the mall, and they are on the edge of the adult world. “Perhaps the coolest thing,” states Keenoy, “Is I got to see Harry discover his passion. He is a wonderful artist! They have freedom here to find out who they are and who they want to be.”
Keenoy and Hordyk, who traveled to China in preparation for the project last year, explained that China is very homogenous, most people look the same. There is very little diversity or originality. “They are missing the creativity and innovation,” shares Hordyk. Here they have the opportunity to explore different sports, the arts, and extracurricular activities.” A goal of the Weiming Project is for these students to share these freedoms when they return to China.