Michigan high schools welcome Chinese exchange students



The Ann Arbor News

AP Member Exchange

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Crystal Jia’s parents wanted her to have a better education. So they sent the 16-year-old from China halfway around the world to enroll at Chelsea High School in Washtenaw County.

Jia is one of two Chinese students attending Chelsea High School this school year through the school’s new partnership with BCC International Education group.

Dexter Community Schools, Saline Area Schools and Ann Arbor Public Schools began working with BCC International in the last year or two, and some Washtenaw County schools work with other organizations to host students from other countries as well. Exchange students typically commit to completing their final two years of high school in Washtenaw County.

“My parents think American education is better than Chinese education. They think American education is a better fit for me,” said Jia, who said she began learning English at age 3. “I want to know how American teachers are different than Chinese teachers. But I worry that I can’t understand the teacher’s language in the class.”

The chance to attend an American high school is something many of the students placed by BCC International have wanted for years, and it requires a significant financial investment from their families.

Families pay for travel, insurance for their student, room and board, school meals and $10,000 a year in tuition to the public schools where they enroll, said Laurel Capobianco, vice president of BCC International, which is based in Troy. Michigan public schools receive the usual per pupil foundation allowance from the state for their exchange students in addition to the tuition.

The average annual salary in China was the equivalent to $10,400 U.S. dollars in 2016, according to Trading Economics. Average salary varies by industry and region.

“They want to improve their English proficiency by speaking with students who are native English speakers. And they want to be prepared for college in the United States,” Capobianco told The Ann Arbor News . “It’s creating a global platform for students to engage with each other in a setting that becomes natural ultimately. We say global education leads to world peace one student at a time.”

On Aug. 29, 23 Chinese students gathered for orientation at the BCC International Student Center — a former University of Michigan sorority house that has been converted into a residence hall for male exchange students attending school in Washtenaw County.

The students role-played through different scenarios they may encounter with their host families and teachers, practicing their conflict-resolution skills and getting used to doing group activities — which doesn’t happen at schools in China, Capobianco said.

“Remember, this is like democracy in America — you get to vote,” she said to the students as she asked them to cast ballots for their favorite role-playing skit.

For Bob Lee, who will attend Ann Arbor’s Huron High School, an American education is the path to a business degree. AAPS expected to enroll around 65 international students from 16 different countries this school year, said district spokesperson Andrew Cluley.