In "The Parachute Generation" from the New York Times, Brook Larmer reveals that, “In 2005, only 641 Chinese students were enrolled in American high schools. By 2014, that student population approached 40,000 — a 60-fold increase in a single decade — and it now accounts for nearly half of all international high-school students in the United States.”
One of the many questions Larmer seeks to answer is: Why?
Many of the reasons Larmer goes on to elucidate are obvious. While China’s education system emphasizes memorization, a Western education, especially those available at private U.S. high schools, offers something else: a less competitive and systematic education, in which a student has the ability to be creative and discover what interests them.
Writing on the same topic for NPR, Josie Huang observes that many Chinese teens are leaving the “test-driven, high-pressure world of schools back home for the U.S.” with an additional goal in mind: to improve their chances of admission to prestigious American universities.
But let us not forget the many other reasons students from all over the world come to the U.S. for high school. Beside the want for a different kind of education, and the drive to attend the world’s best universities, there are plainer, though no less valuable reasons: to have an experience, to make friends, to exchange cultures, to trade languages, and, simply put, to see the world.
Such benefits are no less tangible, impactful, or important than a diploma from a prestigious American high school. Indeed, we are talking about more than just cultural exchange and public diplomacy; we are talking about life experience itself. The things we write about in our college essays. The stories we one day tell our kids. When I was young, I studied abroad. This one time, with the friends I made during my stay… You can almost hear the adventures unfolding!
All this to say: There is value in the experience, too; not just in the result. Perhaps this is best said in the words of our students:
Pimpatha, from Thailand, on why she wanted to attend high school in the U.S.:
“I wanted to grow up, step out from the comfort zone, improve my English, and exchange cultures.”
Rusudan, from Georgia, on the importance of host families:
“My exchange year wouldn't be the same without [my host] family. Everywhere we go, people smile at us because we're such an international family. My host sister is Kazakh and my other sister is Thai . . . I think meeting this family and having them in my life is the best reward of my exchange year, and I'm sure this relationship and love will last forever.”
Beomsu, from South Korea, on how much he likes choosing his class schedule:
“Of course U.S. history, English, and math are required subjects, but another three subjects can be filled with my favorite subjects. There are so many kinds of classes available, so I filled those classes with photography, consumer economics, and table tennis. So now I can enjoy my school life.”
Dorotja, from Serbia, on her love of the experience:
“It is hard to pick a favorite part of a typical U.S. day because I love all of it. I love that there are so many afterschool activities that I can participate in. For example, tennis and color guard. I also like spending time with my friends in school or going to football or soccer games and cheering for our team.”
Interested in hosting a CIEE exchange student? Click here for more information on hosting for the 2019-2020 school year!