Many dream of being an exchange student after years of learning a foreign language. This fantasy became a reality for 24 students from Chongming Senior High School and Yangtze High School near Shanghai, China. Between January 28 and February 4, the Chinese students stayed with RM families, accompanying host students to school and sharing their culture.
After landing at Baltimore-Washington International Airport on Thursday, January 25, the Chinese students spent January 26 and 27 exploring Rockville Town Center and the National Mall in Washington, D.C. They visited many of the Smithsonian’s museums. Finally, they met the host families over dinner on Sunday, January 28.
RM students chose to host for many reasons. “I took Chinese for six years, and I would love to go to China someday,” senior Stella Masucci said. “I was really interested in hearing the experiences of a Chinese teenager versus my own experiences.”
For others, although they did not take the language, they wanted to gain a better understanding of Chinese culture and share their own. “My mom has her degree in Chinese economics so she was very excited when we heard about the opportunity to host a student,” freshman Jake Singer said. Regardless of different motives, each host student opened up their home to a visitor.
The Chinese exchange students had similar reasons for participating in such an exchange. “I think it’s a good chance to experience a foreign culture,” exchange student Yifan Ni said. “I didn’t want to miss this chance to go abroad.”
Between January 29 and February 2, the Chinese students attended RM to receive a taste of American education. They noticed several differences. “School is more free and it ends a lot earlier. There’s a lot more walking in school,” Yiwen Fei, Singer’s exchange student, said. Students at Chongming Senior High School and Yangtze High School have the option to choose between boarding at school or only attending day school. Boarding students live in dormitories and return to their families on weekends.
On Friday, February 2, both host and exchange students were invited to the RM varsity basketball games against Rockville High School. During halftime of the girls’ game, the students were invited onto the court. The Chinese students were made guests of honor and received gifts.
“It’s been really nice to show someone the American experience, even if it’s not what I do all the time,” sophomore host student Vincent Martin said. February 3 was a free day; the host families were able to decide where to take their visitors. “Saturday, we are going to D.C. to visit museums and go shopping,” Singer said.
Martin took his exchange student, Ni, to Dave and Buster’s, where the two enjoyed playing at the arcade. Many of the Chinese students were eager to go shopping. “I’d like to buy some gifts for my parents and family members,” Ni said.
IB Coordinator Nancy Shay and her sons, junior Alex Coster and freshman Josh Coster, hosted exchange student Tianao Zhang. “We took our host student to soccer practice and will be taking him shopping and back to the Air and Space Museum,” Ms. Shay said.
The experience was pleasant for host families and exchange students alike. “Living with Vincent is a very interesting thing!” Ni said. “Yifan has been very nice about everything,” Martin noted. Over the week, the pair became friends while learning about each other’s cultures and lives.
“I knew we were having a successful hosting experience when I came home late from an IB parent meeting on Tuesday night and heard my sons and our guest laughing uproariously while playing a video game in the basement,” Ms. Shay said. “Tianao has filled our household with laughter and meaningful conversation, and for that we will always be thankful.”
RM host students enjoyed sharing their culture through this experience. “It makes you feel good when they smile at the simplest things, such as riding the bus,” Singer said. “The adventure that these students are on is a very rare opportunity, and I’m glad that I get to give them the ideal American week.”
Martin agreed, citing this exchange program as an integral experience to better acquaint students with the international population. “It allows you to see into other cultures and other people to see into your culture. It’s definitely something that everyone should do at least once. It opens your eyes to the global community,” he explained.
“It is a unique experience that the whole family gets to be a part of,” Masucci said. “You grow when you do this because you realize that your actions can benefit someone else and not just yourself.” On Sunday, February 4, before the exchange students parted ways with their hosts, each Chinese student gave a brief presentation about their trip and impressions of American culture. “No matter what language you take, or where your family is from, it’s a really good experience for everyone,” Masucci said.
Over spring break in 2019, RM students are set to visit Chongming Senior High School and Yangtze High School. “I’ve already been an exchange student once, and I’d love to do it for another period of time,” Martin said. At that time, RM students will be able to experience what they showed the Chinese students: a foreign culture.
Visiting an unfamiliar place is often scary, but making friends and learning about another culture is an unforgettable experience. In the span of only a week, the exchange program has allowed host families and exchange students to make incredible memories.
Featured photo courtesy of Albert Zhang.