More Chinese Send Children to US Schools
More Chinese Send Children to US Schools
LAGUNA NIGUEL, Calif. – When Ken Yan’s parents were contemplating his future, they decided the best option for the 11-year-old was to send him 7,000 miles away from his home in China to Southern California. Ken didn’t speak English, and he would need to live with a host family in the U.S. he had never met. But the Yans felt it was all worth it.
In their quest for a U.S. education, more Chinese families are sending their children to America – and at younger ages.
The number of Chinese students at elementary schools surged from 500 in 2011 to 2,450 in 2015, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Over the same period, the number of Chinese nationals attending secondary schools in the U.S. jumped from 17,914 to 46,028. Those numbers pale compared with the tens of thousands of Chinese students enrolled at U.S. universities, but are expected to soar in the next few years.
“It’s an obvious trend,” said Emily Li, an educational consultant in Irvine, Calif. who specializes in the Chinese market. “When I came in 2004, there were mainly students like me attending graduate school. A few years later, there are college students. Then high-school students. And now there are junior high and elementary school students coming.”
In late August, Ken Yan left his home, family and friends in Jiangxi province for California, where his parents had found the host family to take care of him and a new school to educate him.
“The first day at the school was hard,” said the boy. “I tell my mom I want to go to China.”
Ken’s father, Sam Yan, said that the “U.S. education is better.” It promotes independent thinking, offers more opportunities and is less pressured, he said.
The families are also eager to gain a toehold in the U.S. Ken’s parents recently joined the ranks of Chinese families who have bought property in Irvine, Calif., which has become a magnet for the Chinese because of its picture-perfect, safe neighborhoods and upscale shopping. Others have invested money in infrastructure projects, under a federal program known as EB-5, which makes them eligible for U.S. permanent residency in a few years.
“It is the mentality to bring kids over as early as possible,” said Ms. Li. “They believe speaking good English will help them be more competitive in the future” when they apply to college.
The majority of the Chinese students attend private schools, which usually sponsor them for a visa and provide English-language support.
Sam Yan, who is a real-estate developer, had already sent his oldest child, Cassie, 19, to live with an Orange County family during high school. She is now a freshman at nearby Chapman University. A 17-year old son, Gavin, also lives in Orange County with a host family.
Homestay Services International, which places foreign students with American families, found a home for Ken with Kim Letter and Meno Hamid, who have a modest, three-bedroom house in Laguna Niguel.
Having hosted a few Chinese girls during the summer, the couple had decided to take two students year-round. They wanted to supplement their income after recently closing their hair salon, said Ms. Letter, 59, who is a grandmother. Sixth-grader Ken and eighth-grader Peter Qu, the son of accountants in Wuhan, met for the first time in August when they moved in with Ms. Letter and Mr. Hamid.
For the $1,200 that they receive monthly per student, the hosts are responsible for preparing the boys’ meals, taking them on outings and transporting them to school.
Ken attends Mission Viejo Christian School, in Mission Viejo, Calif. It has a handful of international students among 300 overall in elementary and middle school. It charges $10,000 in tuition for international students compared with $8,500 for domestic students. Principal Bob Slater said the school is interested in expanding its Chinese student body. “It’s good for them and good for us,” he said, because it gives the Americans exposure to another culture.
On Ken’s first day in September, “he was a shriveled mess,” recalled his teacher, Ruth Pavey. “He was frightfully formal and unsure of himself,” she said, demonstrating how he stooped over and gazed downward.
Although Ken barely understood anything at first, Ms. Pavey said “we entrenched him in everything we were doing,” she said, such as discussions about Mesopotamia or biblical passages.
A classmate named Carolina Abdella took interest in the bespectacled boy from a faraway land. “We, like, started hanging out at recess,” she said.
She soon began learning words in Mandarin from her brother who studies Chinese. She recited them to Ken, who used Google translator to look up what he wished to say in English. “He’s so brave to come here and learn English without his family,” she said.
Ms. Pavey asked Carolina to switch desks to sit beside her buddy. “When I have some questions, she always tell me,” said Ken.
With each passing day, Ken raised his shoulders a little more, his teacher says. In broken English, he began sharing stories about acclimating to America, like the first time he did his own laundry and soap suds seeped out of the washing machine, flooding the floor. Everyone laughed with him, his teacher recalled.
Ms. Pavey said that she came to regard him as a “gift” to her and to the class of sixth-graders “living in their Orange County bubble.”
At home, Mr. Hamid, a retired chef, introduced Ken and Peter to international and American cuisine, like hefty breakfasts with eggs and sausage. He noticed their precocious math skills and began quizzing them on equations on the morning drive to their respective schools. They have become companions on shopping trips. At Costco, they devour the hot dogs. “It’s really a good thing that happened in my life,” said Mr. Hamid of the boys.
Ken’s parents and his hosts agreed that after school he would do homework with a tutor and get to bed by 9 p.m. Sometimes the couple catches Ken on his electronic device, and urge him to turn it off.
Despite the language barrier, school in the U.S. is less demanding than in China. “Free time is more here,” he said.
Every other weekend, Ken’s sister picks him up and they go shopping together, one of his favorite pastimes, and he often Facetimes with his mother.
In his sparse bedroom, a stuffed Curious George Monkey sits on a chest of drawers. “My mom gave me a monkey and she hope when I see this monkey I can think to miss her,” he said. “Sometimes I will sleep with that monkey.”
Asked about life in the U.S., Ken said, “I think it’s very good. So I don’t cry again.”