“I was surprised by how warm it is here – not just the weather, but the people,” said student Yinrong Shao, who asked to be called Alice. “Everyone has been very nice.”
Aware that their Chinese names might be difficult for Americans to pronounce, the five students and their teacher taking part in the exchange program chose English names.
Alice, Angela (Yuan Liang), Michael Swift (Lilie Xu), Frank (Tianchang Shen) and Alien (Shaolong Tian) are 10th-graders at the top-ranked high school in Beijing. Along with their English teacher, Shea Xia, they are in a five-week program to study at Augusta Prep while learning about American culture.
Though Augusta Prep educates many students with foreign origins, Head of Schools Becky Gilmore said this is the first time in the school’s 50-year history that it has taken part in a foreign exchange program.
“I think it’s vitally important for all students to have a better understanding of global issues, and what better way than to have a real one-on-one cultural and educational exchange,” Gilmore said.
Augusta Prep is one of just four Georgia schools to take part in the program organized through Ameson, a Chinese student exchange group, and the Sino American Student Exchange. Gilmore said she intends to continue and promote such exchange programs and hopes to send some Augusta Prep students to China next year for an extended stay.
Alice said she and her Chinese classmates chose to take part in the program because they hope to attend American colleges.
Michael Swift, a name he chose from singers Michael Jackson and Taylor Swift, said he also wants to have a bit of fun.
“So far, everyone has been nice and fun,” he said of his first two days in the U.S. “I want to get to know more people, learn more about them and learn about what they like to do.”
To broaden the students’ cultural horizons, Gilmore said, they will take historical tours of Augusta and visit with area artists. Also, the students and their teacher will live with a host family to take part in “slice of life” events.
During her stay, Xia said, she hopes to spend some time in the kitchen.
“I’d really like to learn how to make an American dish,” she said.