When I think about America, I rarely think about air.
As in air quality.
But that’s what 16-year-old Chinese student Wang Zhenchang marveled over during his recent visit to Apex.
It was his first time in the United States, and Wang wanted to be called “Tony” while visiting. He was here with a group of 20 high school students from Beijing who stayed with Apex High School families from Jan. 19-25.
“He said he loved our air,” said Kelley Roth Simpson, Tony’s host mom and an assistant principal at Apex High. “He liked being outside and walking around in the clean air.”
The Global Classroom Alliance sponsored the event for the second year in a row, doubling the number of students it accepted this year.
Leila Moog, media specialist at Apex High School, is the liaison for the Chinese sister school program. The sister school, JiaYu, is outside of Beijing.
From March 27 through April 5, some Apex High School students will travel to sister schools in Beijing and Shanghai.
But back to our fabulous air, a much-discussed topic among the students.
“Beijing is a very crowded, busy city with mostly high-rises and very few single-family homes,” Moog said. “Most of the students were amazed by the amount of open land and the good quality of the air.”
Shopping was a close second to air quality. The Global Classroom Alliance organized activities for the week, including tours of the high school and local colleges as well as trips to local malls.
“The Chinese students were into shopping since most of the name brands of shoes and clothes are cheaper in the U.S. than in China, even though several are made in China,” Moog said. “They bought a lot of shoes and electronic devices.”
Allison Carter, mom to Apex High School student Alex Stanford, said she hosted 17-year-old “Gary” after her daughter asked to participate in the program.
“His American name was Gary, but his Chinese name was Bai Jia Wei,” Carter said.
Gary wanted to experience life as a typical American teenager. So he played Xbox, went to a high school basketball game and enjoyed a movie out.
“His English readily improved over the week, and our kids learned a touch of Chinese,” Carter said.
Moog said many of the students were interested in attending college in the United States, so touring universities was on the agenda as well as observing what high school was like.
“Their school day begins at 7 a.m. and ends at 9 p.m.,” Carter said. “(Gary) commented on how our 12th-grade math was similar to their ninth-grade math.”
But the Chinese students admired the diversity of class offerings.
Moog said students were particularly interested in the automotive and construction technology classes.
“The culinary arts and fashion design also intrigued them,” she said. “They have very few electives in their curriculum and do not have a band or orchestra in their school either.”
So, would the host families host again?
“Absolutely,” said Simpson, who has two sons, one a student at Apex High. “It was so rewarding. I was surprised how well my own children were able to adapt and communicate with (Tony) even with the language barrier.”
Carter added: “We had no idea what to expect, but fell in love with this student and hearing about his life. My children were in amazement learning about his daily routines. We all discovered interesting truths about China and the Chinese way of life that we would never have known otherwise.”
And on that last Saturday, the host families dropped their charges off in Morrisville so the students could catch an early flight the next day to Beijing.
“To see some of the teary eyes that occurred when the Chinese students had to say goodbye to their hosts made you realize what an invaluable and memorable experience this was for both the Chinese and American students,” Moog said. “Mostly I think the hosts realized that teenagers from China have many more similarities than differences.”