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Good Trade
Chinese students at Liberty Bell

photoThe first Chinese exchange students to attend Liberty Bell High School are, from left, Jinjia Shi, Jiaying Teng, and David Na.

Three Chinese students at Liberty Bell High School who never have seen a Christmas celebration except in the movies say they’re looking forward to experiencing the holiday for the first time.

David Na, 18, Jiaying Teng, 17, and Jinjia Shi, 17, the first Chinese exchange students to attend Liberty Bell, arrived last September and will go home when the semester ends in January. In the months they’ve been here, they had many eye-opening surprises, they said.

The first culture shock was arriving in the valley and discovering how tiny its towns are. They come from suburbs outside Beijing that are comparable in size to Seattle. “It’s so different from Beijing,” said Teng. “The people are so nice. They always smile.”

“One thing that shocked me is that everyone knows each other,” added Shi, who lives in Mazama with her host family, Rick and Missy LeDuc, where she helps out in their store. Both girls said they were struck by the fact that here strangers freely speak to one another, something they are not accustomed to at home.

Shi had another shock: “There is the sky …super blue. I have never seen that kind of blue sky and the fresh air,” she said. She’s hoping for another new experience before she goes home: a ride on a snowmobile.

“There’s no light pollution,” added Teng, who marveled at seeing shooting stars. “I’ve never seen so many stars. China is lit all the time.” She lives with her host family, Suzanne and Bryan Alexander, at Pearrygin Lake State Park, where he is a ranger.

Na, who lives in Winthrop with Methow Valley School Board member Don Calvert and his wife, Jill, said he has skied at the Loup and traveled to Omak, Spokane and Pullman during his stay. “I’m having a good experience,” he said, though he added: “I like big cities more.”

He’s been studying English for 13 years but said it’s still his hardest subject here, along with American history. “It’s really interesting. So much that happened in China has happened here,” said Na, who hopes to become a mechanical engineer.

quote from storyThe students said that they had not studied American history before, so accounts of the arrival of the pilgrims on the Mayflower and our Civil War were news to them, they told Grist.

All three students attend Beijing Royal School, a private K-12 boarding school that offers an American curriculum with the goal of preparing Chinese students to be accepted at American universities, according to Eveline Wathen, who teaches Chinese at Liberty Bell and coordinates the exchange program. “They are definitely from privileged families,” she said.

“Everyone is so kind and open-minded with these students,” Wathen added. “The Methow Valley kids have been very welcoming. Homecoming week was fantastic for these three students. It set the tone for their experience.”

At Beijing Royal School, the students said they are engaged in studies from 8 a.m. until 9 p.m. with a two-hour break at noon and one in the evening for dinner. “It’s more stressful to study in China,” said Shi, who hopes to become an architect or pursue a career in biology. She described her coursework here as “relaxing” compared with her schooling at home and added: “After we get back to China we have to catch up.”

“It’s more fun,” Teng said of her classes here. She hasn’t decided on a career but has ruled out becoming a doctor or lawyer. She’s enjoying the chance to study subjects such as art, which aren’t available to her at home. “I never have these classes in China.” Teng also noted that here she’s expected to be responsible herself for getting her homework done. “That’s good for me,” she said.

Wathen visited Beijing Royal School after Thanksgiving to check on the experiences of John Sinclair, Katherine Tannehill and Patricia Watson, the three Liberty Bell students who are studying there.

“I think for both sides it’s a really good arrangement”’ said Wathen of the Chinese student exchange program. The Liberty Bell students are attending “really good quality” Advanced Placement courses in the sciences that are not offered here, she said, and “are having a really great cultural experience.” She said she expects the program to continue.

Wathen, a native of Holland who holds a master’s degree in Chinese, has lived in Taiwan and China for 12 years. She started teaching Liberty Bell students Chinese informally in 2004 after she moved here in 2002 with her husband, Bernard.

She credits district superintendent Mark Wenzel for recognizing the value of offering Chinese classes. Last August Wathen completed the coursework to become certified by the state to teach Chinese at the high school level. Today Liberty Bell - a school with only 175 students - has 45 of them enrolled in Chinese language instruction.


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