Chinese teen studying abroad in Traverse City

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TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) — Traverse City Area Public Schools officials issued a caution to the Robinson family: Expect their Chinese exchange student to be quiet and reserved.

She had to travel thousands of miles by plane and bus to reach her final destination, a place much different from her bustling hometown of Guangzhou, the third largest city in China.

The Robinsons figured culture shock would be an understatement, but that wasn't the case for He Jian Ying, 16. She's already acting like part of her host family, just two weeks into her move to the United States, the Traverse City Record-Eagle ( ) reported.

She bakes cookies with her host sister, Kaileigh McGrath, 16, and goes shopping with her host mom, McGrath's aunt Mary Haverty-Robinson. She does her share of household chores and embraces Traverse City activities such as kayaking and strolling along the beach.

"We were told that they would be quite reserved and would have to be invited to do things with the family," Haverty-Robinson said. "I think she's acclimated very well. Better than I'm sure I would to her family and the ways that they live."

He Jian Ying — Jian Ying is her first name; the Chinese put their last name first, she said — goes by Jessica in the United States. She is one of 20 students studying at TCAPS through the district's latest international partnership.

TCAPS and Weiming Education Group officials have an agreement that allows Chinese students to attend a TCAPS high school for their junior and senior years, as well as enroll in college classes through Northwestern Michigan College during their senior year.

"I think I suit here, not Chinese education," Jian Ying said. "I came to here for study, and I meet a very nice host family."

The greatest difference she's noticed so far from her life back in China is in education. Chinese students go to school from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. with a two-hour dinner break, and there's required homework on top of the rigorous study schedule.

Jian Ying is now in class from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. as a junior at Traverse City West Senior High School. She's taking English, Spanish, pre-calculus, physics, video production and English as a second language.

"Finding classes for her was a challenge because she had done so many of them already," Haverty-Robinson said.

Jian Ying has been taking English courses since she was 6, and she hopes to perfect the language while studying in Traverse City.

"I still have a lot of words to understand what they mean," she said. "English is the problem, but I think time can solve the problem."

It isn't Jian Ying's first time in the United States — she's visited Florida, California and New York, but she likes Michigan best. She's already decided she wants to come back to live in Traverse City as an adult.

"I'm going to buy a house near the lake. It's really pretty," she said.

She likes Michigan's fresh air and blue sky, a far cry from the pollution in Guangzhou, she said. But she likes spending time with Kaileigh most of all, even with their cultural differences.

"I and Kaileigh don't have really similar hobbies, but we both like the funny things, so we're going to stay together," Jian Ying said.

"There's a lot of giggling that goes on in my house now," Haverty-Robinson said.

The Robinson's aren't strangers to hosting international students. Haverty-Robinson and her husband, Steven Robinson, took in several college-aged Japanese students about 10 years ago as part of NMC's summer exchange program.

"We found it just a very enlightening experience, especially the Asian cultures which tend to be significantly different from our own," Haverty-Robinson said. "It was kind of a step out of our comfort zone."

Haverty-Robinson encourages other families to "take the leap" and offer up their homes to an exchange student. She calls the experience rewarding for both the student and family.

"She's joyful and a pleasure to be around. Every day there's something new that we learn about her," Haverty-Robinson said. "There are these relationships being built. I look forward to enriching that as time goes on, and I think it can only be beneficial for both."


Information from: Traverse City Record-Eagle,

This is an AP Member Exchange shared by the Traverse City Record-Eagle

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