Mainland Chinese students at American boarding schools are a new phenomenon. Ever since the 20th century, boarding schools have been expanding the pool of students from which they enroll. Whether it was by accepting scholarship students, blacks or girls, boarding schools have been slowly becoming more diverse places. The latest trend is international students from places other than the Western World. In a class of ten I observed at Founders there were boys from Ghana, Thailand and Peru along with girls from China, Hong Kong and South Africa. Ever since I attended Founders, the number of Mainland Chinese students has grown. Currently, there are close to twenty Mainland Chinese students at Founders, which is more than they have ever had before.
Founders has been at the forefront of the globalization of boarding schools. Currently the school has students from 34 different foreign countries and 39% of the student body is of color. The large number of foreign and minority students is not a serendipitous occurrence at Founders. Led by a head of school who is from South Africa and a head of the board of trustees who is a professor at Tsinghua University (one of the most prestigious universities in China), Founders has embraced the globalizing world. “It’s one of our goals to attract an international student body since that is what the students will be interacting with when they graduate,” said David Robinson, the Coordinator of the International Program at Founders. With a head of the board who is intimately involved with China, he travels there every two weeks; Founders has made it a priority to attract the brightest Chinese students.
Founders has done a number of things that have made it an attractive destination for foreign students. Being a top academic boarding school in the US is the most attractive part of the school, for most foreigners. Founders has strong sports to attract international athletes. The school also tries to be as foreign as possible, by involving itself in international programs that expand the education of the students. Such as, Round Square, an association of more than 70 schools in 15 countries around the world that promotes global engagement through many events, most specifically through a conference that takes place once a year at a member school.
There are only 3 American schools in Round Square, which makes Founders membership more unique. Founders also has school year abroad and foreign service trips. In 2009 an alumni believed that Antarctica was the last unexplored land in the world so he sent half the school to Antarctica for two weeks. This trip allowed students to see lands that are as unaffected by humans as possible, to expand the idea of human impact for the students. Founders makes its self as global as it can while still maintaining the total institution aspect of being a small boarding school in Connecticut. The opportunities to experience more than ones local community attracted many of the foreign students I talked to, to Founders.
The internationalism of Founders is not the reason that most Chinese students looked to come to high school in the states. A large percentage of the Chinese students viewed America as a way to make themselves more rounded people, a way to get out of the test oriented system in China and a way to be set up to work and live in America. Students regularly stressed to me throughout their interactions that coming to America allowed them to try new interest and meet new people. They saw this diversifying of whom they know and what they do as a way to make themselves “better rounded” people, who would know more than just how to study. The Chinese high school system is something that many students want to escape. Chinese high school seniors must take an exam called the Gao Kao to gain acceptance into college.
The exam is a three day ordeal that the last two years of high school is spent preparing for. Many students leave the Chinese educational system to avoid the Gao Kao. The last reason is that coming to high school in America is seen as a way to better prepare oneself for college in America and life in America. Coming to Founders does not necessarily mean that a Chinese student has a leg up on a student who studied at home when it comes to getting into American colleges. But, most of the time the students feel that they fit in to the social scene better at the schools they end up enrolling in than the Chinese students who did not do school in the States prior to enrolling in an American University.
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