By MIRANDA BAINES
THE DAILY SOUTHERNER
Chinese exchange students at North East Carolina Prep School and their host families shared their experiences at the Tarboro Rotary Club meeting Thursday afternoon.
Diane LeFiles, director of communications for NECP and coordinator of the “China connection,” referred to the exchange students as the “new kids on the block.” The exchange students have been in the Edgecombe County area for about three weeks and will return to China next weekend.
Bill Thorne introduced the guests, thanked LeFiles for her efforts to “make the community a better place,” and expressed his excitement about having “all these young students here” at Rotary.
The Chinese exchange students are from Beijing and are part of a Global Classroom Alliance. The connection began when LeFiles met Shijun Naour of the alliance several years ago.
“This China connection has been building between our communities for some time,” LeFiles said. “It’s very exciting. It’s an evolving process, but as you can see, it’s well under way.”
All of the Chinese exchange students know how to speak English to different degrees of proficiency and have received instruction completely in English while at NECP.
“As they sit in our classrooms, it is total immersion,” LeFiles said. The students have not only had to adjust to an English-speaking environment while at school but have also adjusted to American family life in the homes of their host families.
“Most of them are only children, so adjusting to a large family was different for some of them,” LeFiles said.
One of those students is eighth-grader Xiyang HU, “Richard,” who is staying with David and Andrea Sessoms and their three sons Jacob, Anderson and Carter, adding a fourth “brother” to the roost.
“Four boys is fabulous,” Andrea said. “Richard is just like a member of our family. He fights with the boys, he plays with the boys.”
Sixth-grader Jacob Sessoms told the Rotary Club he thinks of Richard as an “older brother” and that he has been amused by Richard’s antics, such as getting his fishing rod stuck various places while on a family fishing outing.
“So far, I haven’t seen anything that Richard can’t do,” Jacob said.
Andrea said her family Skypes with Richard’s family on a regular basis and recently sang “Happy Birthday” to Richard’s 70-year-old grandfather. To her, the connection enhances the global perspective that she and her husband strive to introduce to their children. The couple previously has gone on mission trips overseas.
“Richard’s family has invited us to China, and I expect we’ll probably be going in the next year or two,” Andrea said. “He has touched our lives in ways we never thought possible.”
While Jacob Sessoms gained a brother, sixth-grader Mary Marshall Martin gained a sister, eighth-grade exchange student LingHan DONG, “Lydia.”
“I’ve never really had anybody staying at the house this long, so it’s kinda new,” said Mary Marshall, an only child.
Lydia told the Rotarians she came to the United States because she wanted to know “the difference from Chinese schools and American schools.” LeFiles shared that the school day for Chinese students is much longer and that in most cases, teachers there rotate classes, while it’s the students in American schools who rotate classes.
“Do you want to go to China?” a Rotarian asked Mary Marshall.
“Not without my family,” came the tentative response.
Mary Marshall’s father, Farrar Martin told the Rotary Club that the exchange has been a “wonderful experience” that his family has enjoyed.
“The world is getting smaller every day and it’s really wonderful that the school (NECP) sees this as being important,” Martin said.
Sixth-grader Grant Dew, son of Sherry and Billy Dew, and eighth-grade exchange student Yuzhe HUANG, “Jack,” had a friendly, brotherly dispute at the Rotary Club meeting.
“Jack, he likes riding in the golf car, but he’s kinda dangerous,” Dew told the Rotarians.
When Jack took the microphone, he insisted that he is “not dangerous” on the golf cart.
Grant also said he and Jack enjoy playing baseball together.
“I want to play with American children,” Jack told Rotarians, when asked why he wanted to come to America. “I can learn a lot of habits of Americans.”
The goal of the China connection is to provide new learning opportunities for Chinese and American students alike. As part of the connection, NECP has plans to welcome one or more Chinese teachers to the school staff to teach Mandarin Chinese as an elective offering to NECP students, LeFiles told club members.