Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Foreign Exchange Program Progress Report

Friday afternoon I picked Bethany and Connor up from day camp and brought two extra kids home with us. Ken and Tina (their self-christened American monikers) are visiting America with a group from their school in Beijing, China. Their first three weeks* in the US were spent visiting New York and Washington, D.C., and their trip culminates with three weeks in Michigan.

As part of this foreign cultural exchange program through our school district, Bethany and Connor have been attending a day camp with the Chinese students. Since our district hosts Chinese students from our sister school in Beijing throughout the year, an unused school has been converted in dormitories. The first week our Chinese kids were here, they stayed in these dorms and went to camp Monday-Friday, 8:30-4:00, along with the American kids. Friday they came home with us, to finish off the final two weeks of their American trip. During these two weeks, Bethany, Connor, Ken, and Tina will continue to go to day camp Monday-Friday.

The day camp is a fun place for the kids to learn about American (for the Chinese) and Chinese (for the American) culture and participate in many activities and field trips. They play games, do craft projects, watch movies, play outside, and more. The camp is 100% free for the American kids, including lunch, snacks, and all field trips! Last week they went on three field trips; shopping and a movie at a local outdoor mall, our city pool, and the Detroit Zoo. Another day they had someone come in with an exotic animals demonstration.  Monday of this week they walked to a local park with a splash pad, and from here on out they will have a field trip every day. Weekends and evenings the host families are responsible for entertaining and feeding the kids, but we have been provided with some ideas and opportunities for meeting up with others from the program outside of day camp.

At pick up time Friday afternoon, we had a brief informational meeting and then the whole group had a family pizza dinner at the school. It was pretty much utter chaos, but with so many people I'm not sure how it could have been done differently. Then we loaded Ken and Tina's luggage into the van and brought them home.

We spent Friday evening showing them around our house and just letting them settle in. My mom came over to meet them and brought ice cream. Pretty quickly it became apparent that the language barrier might be an issue, but from the start these two kids have both been very sweet and well mannered. They eat everything we give them, try their best to answer our questions, and are understandably very quiet. Although they have both been studying English for years (they are 11 years old), speaking in a classroom in China is quite different from speaking with Americans who don't speak Chinese. I can only imagine the relief they must feel when they call home or see their peers at day camp and can speak freely without trying to think of every single word they want to say.

Saturday we spent the day in Lexington. My aunt and cousins are visiting from Idaho and staying at their family cottage there. I wanted to make sure we got to spend some time with them, and I thought it would be cool to take Ken and Tina to a Michigan beach and give them the chance to see one of the Great Lakes. We went swimming and played on the beach, then I took them into town so they could get some candy from the General Store. Ken, as it turns out, does not like candy. He likes other sweets so I'm not sure why he was unwilling to try anything, but I find it impressive that an 11-year old kid is able to just say no to candy. Saturdays during the summer season are crazy in Lexington, but we still managed to get a parking spot and find a bench to sit for a few minutes enjoying our candy. We then drove to Croswell to the swinging bridge, just because that's something that we do while we're there. There was a festival going on, and we sort of got stuck in a parade of tractors, but the kids were able to cross the bridge and play for a few before we headed back to the cottage for dinner. We got back just in time to indulge in an American barbecue dinner that my aunt and her family had prepared.

After dinner we had to scoot because Bethany and Tina had been invited to a sleepover at another host family's house. Bethany's friend is hosting two Chinese girls who are friends of Tina's. We were told that the Chinese kids view their schoolmates much like siblings, since they spend so much time with them (they go to boarding school), and to try to let the kids see each other outside of camp if possible. Tina seemed quite happy to be with her friends, and I'm grateful for the invitation!

The kids were exhausted from our long day and passed out pretty early. I picked the girls up Sunday morning, and then we all spent a couple hours just hanging out at home before taking the kids to my father-in-law's to go swimming. We stopped on the way to pick up some Hot 'N Ready pizzas, had lunch poolside and let the kids swim for hours. Tina and Ken are both good swimmers. They told us that they swim at school, but that they mostly just swim laps and are not allowed to play around in the pool. I think they had fun just splashing around and doing whatever they wanted (without the big crowd at the city pool).

When we had had enough swimming, we went out to dinner at a Chinese restaurant. Our waitress immediately sensed that Tina and Ken were from China - maybe she noticed that they didn't seem to understand English that well - so she spoke to them in Chinese, which helped the ordering process. They seemed to like all the food, and when we asked them if if was like food they eat at home in China they said yes. We were surprised by this, but then they did order some different foods that we had never had. They tried everything. I am so thankful they're not picky eaters! They have been making it easy on us in that regard. After dinner we went out for ice cream before going home for the night.

Connor and Ken have been playing video games together, but Bethany and Tina haven't really found any common ground like that yet. Ken is starting to open up a little more and talk to us more, while Tina is definitely more shy and I think it will take a little more doing to get her out of her shell. I'm trying to ask them lots of questions and get dialogues going, and often times that is not easy, but we're plugging along and it's getting easier. When I hear Ken talking to his family on the phone, he sounds very animated and I hope he is telling them how much fun he is having! Tina has her own phone and calls home up in Bethany's bedroom, so I haven't heard her conversations.

So far my impression is that this is a great program! I love that the kids have the day camp to go to and so many activities and field trips to do. That takes some pressure off host families...knowing the kids have been doing fun things all day, I don't feel like we have to schedule an activity every night. Our responsibility as host families is to feed the kids breakfast and dinner everyday, drive them to and from day camp, feed them on weekends, and provide them with their own beds. Connor has bunk beds, so that was easy. I re-arranged Bethany's room a little to squeeze in a twin size air mattress, which I purchased before I knew that the school had some to loan out to host families. But that's okay, it's a nice air mattress and now Bethany can use it any time she has a friend over to spend the night. The kids have their own spending money, but we are to treat them like our own in regards to things like paying for meals out, paying their way for any activities we choose to do with them, etc. We are allowed to do whatever we want with them on weekends and evenings, with the exception of leaving the country - no trips to Canada!

I'm already feeling like I won't be ready to give Tina and Ken up in two weeks! I'll continue to update, but so far I'd say it's going pretty well!

Maybe I should consider editing my photos so my kids don't look like zombies. Just a thought.

*Actually, I'm not really sure how long the kids were in the U.S. before they arrived in Michigan. Initially we were told they would be touring the east coast for two or three weeks before coming to MI, then another host mom who is also volunteering with the program told me she thought they were here for 6 weeks total. But when I asked Ken to see his pictures from the first part of the trip, it looks like they may have only been in the U.S. for about a week (in NYC, D.C., Philly, Niagara Falls, and Toronto) before their arrival in Michigan.


Shawn Ann @ Shawn Ann's World said...

That is so neat and so great of you to take in foreign exchange students during the summer!

alyaia75 said...

It is a really awesome experience! I hope my kids learn a lot from it, and that the Chinese kids go home with a positive view of the US.