- Corrections: Andy Zhang was incorrectly stated as Adam Zhang in a earlier version of this article. It also incorrectly stated that Jonathan Brown is WPHS principal, he is the new principal at Highlands Middle School.
White Plains High School welcomed Chinese foreign exchange students Friday in the most American way it knew how—with a barbecue.
“It#s just part of getting used to the American way of eating hamburgers,” said Superintendent Christopher Clouet.
A dozen students from a high school in Beijing, China arrived in America on Saturday and have been taking in the experience ever since. Two students in particular, 15-year-old twins Andy and Josh Zhang, have been mixing in visits to prestigious Ivy League schools, such as Harvard and Yale, with trips to Yankee games.
“I’ve been visiting some interesting places and communicating with Americans,” Josh said.
The school has been hosting Chinese students for three years and, according to the faculty, they have had no trouble fitting in with the already diverse student body at WPHS.
“Too bad school#s not in session, because you would see how it changes the high school,” said teacher Susan Altman.
Altman, who also serves as President of the Foundation Advancement of International Studies, was one of the driving forces behind the event.
On a visit to China in 2005, Altman met with a teacher at Suzhou High School in Suzhou and began communicating with her. The bond furthered in 2007 when Suzhou’s principal visited WPHS to set up a sister school relationship.
Since then the high schools have made annual trips to each other’s countries and WPHS is currently planning its third trip, which will take place in April.
The program is as much a learning experience for the host families as it is for the students.
“I learn something every time,” said Altman, who is currently hosting three students herself. Despite some differences in food preference—her students’ favorite food is frozen waffles—Altman believes that teenagers are simply teenagers, regardless of where they come from.
“I#ve learned that teenagers are very similar whether they are American or Chinese. They play video games, they like Apple products and sneakers."
Those similarities between the cultures are what strengthened the relationship between WPHS and Suzhou.
“One of the things that attracted me to (Suzhou) is that they have a big program for ethnic minorities,” said Clouet. “There are many ethnic minorities in China... and that reminded me of our own school here, which is very diverse.”
According to Clouet, WPHS strives to be an international community.
Jonathan Brown—who began his tenure as principal on July 1, as Highlands Middle School#s new principal—id not need a translator to communicate with the children, as he speaks Chinese himself.
“I think the program is a nice way to help our cultures merge,” said Brown. “It#s an excellent opportunity for our students to get to see what the other side of the world offers and a chance for their side of the world to see what America#s really like.”
The students will be staying in America for another week before they take their experiences, and maybe even a newfound love for hamburgers, back to Beijing.