Like many American teenagers, some Chinese high schoolers think they’re pretty independent – and don’t need parents around.
Logan says he’s been away from China for months, but rarely feels the need to call his mom and dad “Actually, it’s always my parents who want to talk with me,” Logan says.
Logan is a junior at Pius XI high school, on Milwaukee’s west side. “My parents miss me, and I just a little miss – not so much," Logan says. "And I just think these are new experience of my life and I feel excited about it."
Experiences such as playing in symphonic band and asking an American girl for a date.
Another student, Vicky, is a senior at Dominican High School in Whitefish Bay. She agrees – it wasn’t a big deal to leave home. “It was OK, because I’m pretty independent. I go to the boarding kindergarten,” Vicky says.
However, it did take Vicky awhile to come into her own, according to Lindsey Dineen. She counsels Dominican’s international students. “She came in a little shy, kind of quiet, and I knew she was always curious about the culture and things, because she would come and ask me, ‘what’s this homecoming dance that's coming up, can you tell me more?’”
Dineen says she noticed changes as Vicky became more confident speaking English. “Once that started to grow, in addition to joining one of our sports teams, that helped her to make some new friends and from there she just flourished, and it’s been fun to watch,” Dineen says.
Dineen meets one-on-one with the Chinese teens, if they need assistance. And she holds a lunch meeting with the students once a week, to share information and review the school calendar.
The teens are part of the Wisconsin International Academy (WIA). The program is in its second year, and has more than 100 students in five area parochial schools. They meet WIA’s criteria for performance and course offerings. WIA says public schools weren’t a good option, because of residency issues.
Dominican Principal Edward Foy says despite the distance between his school and China, his staff reaches out to the teens’ families. “We usually make two trips back to China every year, and send one member of our staff,” Foy says.
The school representative holds parent conferences and attends education expos to attract new applicants.
Foy says all are from well-to-do families, who can afford the WIA program. It costs between $30,000 to $40,000 a year.
Foy says parents want to send their children to the U.S. to have a better chance of succeeding in college here.
“You have to understand China. It’s almost always one child in the family, so there’s a lot invested in the future of their family…with that child," Foy says. "Education is a really important thing there, as it is here, and the families really want to see what’s the best possible outcome for their child."
Foy says the program makes a good fit for Dominican, because the school values diversity, and likes to spread the Christian message.
Father Paul Hartmann also sees benefits for his school, Catholic Memorial in Waukesha. It’s accepted a half dozen Chinese students from WIA, and plans to enroll more in coming years.
“Sometimes outsiders think it’s only done for the finances of it. Certainly we, like any other private school, would like to be larger, but we don’t need to do this on a financial basis. We think it’s purposeful to do for the experience that these kids will have in our school, but also the experience our kids will have of international students,” Hartmann says.
While the schools provide classes and extracurricular activities, WIA takes care of everything else: visas, weekend outings and housing. A handful of students stay with families for a semester. Most live in a temporary residence hall, two floors of a Days Inn in Glendale. A caterer serves Chinese food for dinner.
Next year, the teens will have their own dorm. Jian Sun founded WIA. He says it just bought a hotel, restaurant and banquet hall in Wauwatosa, and will renovate the buildings this summer.
“Sprinkler installation, roof replacement, the swimming pool conversion to basketball places, and also fencing around this area, so we want to make this very much campus-like,” Sun says.
Sun was born in China and lives in Brookfield. He says for years, he’s helped friends and family attend school in the U.S., so he decided to formalize the process.
“We have 40-plus staff working in China to support this program, doing marketing, promotion and recruiting, admission,” Sun says.
Sun is so pleased with the program that he’s expanding it to the Chicago area. He’s made arrangements with three schools, which will enroll about 30 Chinese students this fall.