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歡迎來到美國!/Welcome to America!

L-R) Yang Jianhao, Luo LeiLei, Yang Kexin, Chen Zixin, Sun Lan and Mu Huiqiao, along with assistant principal Xian yan Zhao (not pictured), are visiting America for a month as part of an exchange program with the Northwest International Student Exchange. They are staying with local families for the week to experience life as a child in the United States. The students and the principal will be seeing local sights, celebrating the Chinese New Year and attending a Super Bowl party, then leaving Sunday night to head to Washington, D.C., and New York City before heading back to China. - Brad Camp/For the Review
L-R) Yang Jianhao, Luo LeiLei, Yang Kexin, Chen Zixin, Sun Lan and Mu Huiqiao, along with assistant principal Xian yan Zhao (not pictured), are visiting America for a month as part of an exchange program with the Northwest International Student Exchange. They are staying with local families for the week to experience life as a child in the United States. The students and the principal will be seeing local sights, celebrating the Chinese New Year and attending a Super Bowl party, then leaving Sunday night to head to Washington, D.C., and New York City before heading back to China.
— image credit: Brad Camp/For the Review

Six students and a principal from an elementary school in Chengdu City, located in the Szechuan Province of China, are getting the experience of a lifetime on Bainbridge Island.

Assistant principal Xiao yan Zhao and the students, who range in age from 10 to 12, are spending 10 days with host families to get a taste of life in another country as part of a month-long trip. They will attend Blakely Elementary for a week to experience life as an American student. They will also take sightseeing trips to various places on the island, take part in a Super Bowl party, then leave Sunday night to head to Washington, D.C., and New York City to partake in some serious sightseeing.

Twelve more students are attending Lakeridge Elementary on Mercer Island in a similar capacity.

The trip is sponsored by Northwest International Student Exchange, a Portland, Ore.-based company that conducts international educational homestay programs for high school students.

Northwest Area Manager Lara Clark said that it is the first time NISE has done a trip like this with elementary-age students.

“This is pretty exceptional,” she said. “We want the kids to get out and embrace the culture.”

Clark said they approached the Seattle School District first, but they were unable to do it due to space issues. Bainbridge turned into the perfect fit thanks to the positive response Clark received from the elementary and middle school principals she wrote to and the island’s interest in the Mandarin culture thanks to the Bainbridge Mandarin Learning Center.

“We wanted to work with a community where there was so much interest in the culture,” she said. “I am impressed with their engagement as a group.”

Blakely Elementary Principal Reese Ande said he and the teachers were more than happy to host students from another country.

“The kids were so excited to have exchange students come,” he said. “They wanted to show them everything they’ve done and teach them the different way they do things. Our whole school has enjoyed having some diversity. That was the big reason we looked at this was just to expand our students’ cultural awareness.”

Ande also felt the exchange students were fitting in well at the school.

“They’ve just been happy,” he said. “The first day the Chinese students were a little cautious and I think our students were cautious as well. But they quickly figured out to use verbal (and hand) gestures and work around some of those language barriers. I think they’ve done a pretty good job of that.”

Kristine and Scott Roberts are one of six families that are serving as hosts for a child on the tour. Kristine Roberts said she and her husband wanted their 5-year-old daughter Shannon to get the cultural experience they got while traveling abroad.

They first met the kids on Friday and had a big welcome dinner for the entire group. They are having another dinner Thursday for the start of the Chinese New Year.

Roberts said their host student, Yang Kexin, (or her chosen English name of “Coco”) has fit in well with their family and their three golden retrievers. They have taken her to Sky High Sports in Bellevue and to a club volleyball tournament as well. (Kristine Roberts coaches an island team.)

“They hang out and communicate like you wouldn’t believe,” she said of Coco and her daughter. “They’re sitting on our bed and she’s teaching Shannon how to count to 10 in Chinese. They’re just going back and forth and it was really cool to see.”

Kristine Roberts was also impressed with Kexin’s piano skills and how affectionate she was with Shannon, Kristine and Scott.

“She’s always giving us hugs,” she said.

While Kexin was shy about talking about her experience, she did say she liked going to the local toy store and that she liked how big her room was.

For those who wanted to host a student, Clark said there will be another opportunity this summer as NISE is planning to host a summer camp on the island.

Clark said the date will fall around the week of the Fourth of July holiday. They still need space to host the camp and families to take in a student for that week.

Contact Clark at (509) 879-0459 or email her at nw.student.exchange@gmail.com.

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