Michigan high schools welcome Chinese exchange students

Lauren Slagter
The Ann Arbor News

Ann Arbor — 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.

Michigan hosted 33,971 international students as of May, according to Department of Homeland Security.

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.

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.

BCC International Education Group Vice President Laurel Capobianco, center, speaks to Chinese exchange students during their orientation at the BCC International Student Center in Ann Arbor.

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.

“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

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 spokesman Andrew Cluley.

Lee, 16, said his parents own a car glass company, and while they didn’t study in the U.S., they wanted him to have that opportunity. He has been learning English since he started kindergarten at Northeast Yucai International School in Shenyang — the main school BCC International works with to recruit students — and he said he wanted to study in America since he was in third grade.

He said he’s interested in trying sports like swimming, golf and badminton this year and experiencing the U.S. teaching style.

“In America, we can talk to the teacher in class and if we have something we don’t understand, we can ask and the teacher will be patient with us,” Lee said. “But in China, some teachers don’t like that because they will think, ‘If you ask me a question, then I cannot finish my class (lecture).’”

Michigan hosted 33,971 international students as of May, which includes students at high schools as well as colleges and universities, according to the Department of Homeland Security. That’s a 14-percent increase from the number of international students who attended school in Michigan three years ago.