By Christopher Gordon
For 11 middle school students from China, their visit to the United States has been a memorable one.
That was in part due to the educational experiences they received while visiting the Lake Shore School District and staying with American host families here – and also because they came at a time when the United States government is embroiled in a shutdown.
The students are from a middle school affiliated with Jilin University located in Northern China and are continuing an exchange program that has been going on between the Chinese school and Lake Shore’s.
“This is our seventh exchange delegation,” said Lake Shore Superintendent James Przepasniak.
The first part of the delegation’s trip was to Washington, D.C., where the students saw for themselves how government impacts people, as they were unable to visit several of the sites they had hoped to due to the shutdown. (They did get their pictures taken on Capitol Hill and in front of the White House.)
The youngsters from North China arrived in Buffalo on Tuesday evening and are staying through today, then heading to Boston and Los Angeles.
The program started with Schuching Chen who is the executive director of the Center for Cross-cultural Exchanges in Williamsville. Chen majored in Comparing Education at the University at Buffalo. He said he has always been interested in making comparisons between educational systems, particularly the United States and China. He also taught at Daemen College and has always been interested in what he can do to enhance educational experiences in both countries.
The current program began on the high school level with Clarence. He soon realized a change needed to be made to the program. It expanded and soon included Lake Shore, Frontier, Grand Island, Lewiston-Porter and West Seneca.
“Lake Shore School District is the longest proven so far,” Chen said.
One of the biggest differences in education in China, Chen said, is that he finds schools there spend more time focusing on basic knowledge on elementary, middle school and high school levels. In American schools, he finds that there is more of an emphasis on instruction of students and giving them more time to learn. “It’s more hands on,” he said.
One of the reasons for this is due to the class sizes. While class sizes tend to be more in the mid-20s range in schools like Lake Shore, class sizes at the school in China are usually in the 60s and sometimes low 70s, Chen said.
Wang Yiquing, a seventh-grade student from China, who is using the American name “Carol” during her visit, said she sees a difference between American and Chinese education. She said the “natural environment” is different, much more relaxed than China.
Those sentiments were echoed by classmate Jhang Yuhan, who is going by the name “Angela” during the trip.
While they have had the opportunity to experience seeing attractions such as Niagara Falls and seeing the White House so far, they agreed what they have enjoyed most is the host families. “The families treat us very nicely. They are very sincere,” Yiquing said.
“We feel the host families are very polite,” Yuhan said. “When we are staying with our host family, it is just like at home.”
The girls, who spent Thursday at the middle school and Friday at the high school, cited one of the differences between the two educational systems is the atmosphere.
“We feel that in here, the classroom atmosphere is very relaxed,” Yiquing said, adding the Chinese system is much more intense.
Yuhan noted that she sees much more participation from students in American schools.
Hanna Prince, an eighth-grade student from Lake Shore Middle School, said she is enjoying learning about the differences in the schools. “I’m just hoping to learn more about the Chinese culture,” she said.