LIVINGSTON, NJ — Every other year, seventh-grade students from Zhuhai City, China have the opportunity to attend Heritage Middle School for one week as part of the Livingston Board of Education’s partnership with EduAcross and the West Essex YMCA. In 2020, Livingston Public Schools will once again be in need of families to house exchange students from Feb. 2 to Feb. 10.
Although Livingston Public Schools welcomed its first batch of Chinese students in early 2018, Hank Su, Program Coordinator of American Education Exploration, explained that the New Jersey Chinese exchange program began in 2014 with Newark Academy and the Lawrenceville Summer Camp.
“We have a winter program and a summer program,” said Su. “In the winter, we place students with host families. Students stay in college dormitories during the summer.”
Su further explained that the program started with the Zhuhai TV's education channel, incorporated with local schools and Education Bureau of Zhuhai City in Southern China.
“This program exists to help kids to see another culture and to discover their potential by learning and living in a country with a different school system and a different environment,” said Su, adding that participating students develop problem-solving skills and independence through this program.
He also described how the host families and organizers help the students to grow.
“We encourage them to make new friends, to look and to listen, to introduce their own culture and to share values,” he said. “The immersion in a new culture helps the students to obtain more opportunities in the future of globalization.”
According to Su, it can be difficult to recruit a sufficient number of appropriate families to accommodate the middle schoolers, but said that host families “provide support to help the kids to accomplish [the] objectives of their trip.”
“The goal of the program is to experience American school life and American family life while making new friends and developing an open view of the future,” he said.
Su offered some examples of new experiences that Chinese students have enjoyed in America.
For instance, because Southern China has a climate similar to Florida’s, some students visiting from China see snow for the first time while in Livingston, he said. In fact, many students who had never skied prior to their visit were able to learn, he added.
Other students who were previously afraid of animals returned home with a new appreciation of cats and dogs after playing with their host family’s pet, according to Su.
As part of the same program, Heritage Middle School students are also offered an opportunity to visit China to learn the language and to experience the culture. Program lengths vary from one week to one month. Children of American host families are the first to be considered for a visit to China as exchange students.
At the end of their journey, participating students are asked to write a diary entry or an essay "depending on their language level,” according to Su.
“They also have the opportunity to share their experience with those kids who are not able to participate this program,” he said.
All schools in this program are carefully selected to ensure a good experience. Host families undergo a complete background check. Families with children the same age have higher priority to visit China for language study. Host families will also be compensated for their hospitality.
“All students are allowed to apply for the program,” said Su. “Tweens and teens who are interested in Chinese and American culture and history, as well as language, are encouraged and welcomed in this program. There is no language exam required.”