New program has Chinese students come to BKW

The Enterprise — H. Rose Schneider

Xu Zihan, a 16-year-old in 10th grade at Daishan High School, left, and Chen Yu Nuo, who is 17 and in 11th grade there, stand before a bulletin board at Berne-Knox-Westerlo, which they visited this week.

BERNE — The eight Chinese teens who arrived at Berne-Knox-Westerlo’s secondary school on Sunday were shocked and delighted to be in a place where snow went up to their knees.

The students, who are 15, 16, or 17, hail from Daishan Island, located near Shanghai in the East China Sea. The climate is similar to Berne, two students told The Enterprise Tuesday, but with strong winds from the sea and snow that never makes it to the ground before melting.

The Daishan High School students, accompanied by two teachers, are spending a week in and around the Hilltowns to get to know their host families, visit local landmarks, and experience the school day of a BKW student.

The goal of the new program is to educate students at BKW on diversity and other countries and cultures, said Mark Pitterson, BKW’s secondary-school principal.

“Some of our students may never get a chance to travel to China,” he said. “This is a good way to bring China to them.”

The school has hosted individual foreign-exchange students before, said school counselor Alicia Caldera, but this is the first week-long program of its kind at BKW, said English teacher Erin Snyder; both faculty members helped organize the trip.

Tuesday marked the official start of the Lunar New Year, often known as the Chinese New Year, celebrated for around three weeks in China. The Daishan students, who are off from school during this time, said they were celebrating the New Year in different ways with their host families. Chen Yu Nuo, who is 17 and in 11th grade, said that her host family, the Rhodes, put a picture of a pig in the window to celebrate the Year of the Pig.

Xu Zihan, a 16-year-old in 10th grade, said on Tuesday that his host family, the Lefkaditises, promised him a trip that night to an American-style Chinese restaurant to compare the food there.

On their first day in the United States, the group landed in Chicago in the midst of record-low temperatures, to spend time with host families there.

“First day, it’s too cold,” exclaimed Xu. The students later flew to Newark and took a bus to Berne.

During their week in the Hilltowns, the students have been kept busy. On Monday the students shadowed someone from their host family while at BKW, and attended their classes, which included math and gym. Chen said that she played badminton in gym class.

“They all think we are good at ping pong,” she laughed.

On Tuesday morning, the students toured the Career and Technical Education program through the Board of Cooperative Educational Services program, where they made crepes with culinary students. This was followed by shadowing a different student for the rest of the day at BKW.

Chen said that on Wednesday she and the other students will be teaching the primary school students about Chinese culture.

On Thursday, the students will be touring the governor’s mansion and capitol building in Albany, said Snyder. If they can’t go on either of these tours, they will instead instead visit a museum.

There will be two assemblies on Friday, Pitterson said, including an opportunity for BKW students from the middle school and high school to ask the Daishan students questions. This will be followed by a trip to Windham Mountain to go snow-tubing.

The trip was the brainchild of Karol Harlow, a former BKW School Board member, who, as the principal at Germantown High School in Columbia County, had conducted student exchanges there. She later retired from her principal’s post, but decided to bring the idea to BKW. She contacted BKW Superintendent Timothy Mundell and Pitterson, as well as Caldera and Snyder, who have helped organize the trip.

Harlow said that she began setting up the program last summer, first by meeting with Pitterson and Mundell, and then ensuring that the students were able to get visas and passports to travel. She then had parents meet during January, but only two families came, and so she started networking and reaching out to other families, and eventually other families came through.

“The families are what made it happen,” said Harlow.

Denny Wu, a chaperone on the trip who has worked with Harlow on previous trips, to Germantown, said it was nice to have the students experience a rural environment in America they might not normally experience when visiting the country.

For Xu and Chen, some of the new things they have experienced included meeting their host family’s animals — neither have pets at home. Xu said his host family has a cat, dog, and horse on their farm, and he also was able to see deer there.

Chen said that, on Monday night, she also watched the BKW girls’ basketball game. It was her first time seeing girls play basketball — students at her school have a basketball club, but it only has boys on it, said Xu, though Chen noted girls have a volleyball club.

Xu said he has learned new English words and has learned more about American culture, which he said is more outgoing and friendly, with people more apt to talk to strangers and to talk during meals.

Both Wu and Snyder said they would like to run the program again; Wu said that he would also like to see students from BKW visit Daishan eventually. Pitterson said that he was not sure if the program could continue next year, particularly with anticipated construction in the building, but said that, in the future, it’s possible that the school may have a full exchange of BKW and Daishan students.

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