Seeking College Edge, Chinese Pupils Arrive in New York Earlier

Seeking College Edge, Chinese Pupils Arrive in New York Earlier

Weiling Zhang, a sophomore at the Léman Manhattan Preparatory School, yearned to communicate with more conviction and verve than her peers back home — the “American way,” she said.

Yijia Shi, a freshman, wanted to increase her chances of an acceptance letter from Brown University. And Meng Yuan, a junior, was seeking Western-style independence, not to mention better shopping. When she is not heading to track practice or doing her homework, she is combing Bergdorf Goodman for Louis Vuitton limited edition handbags and relishing in the $295 tasting menu at the celebrated Columbus Circle restaurant Per Se.

New York City private schools have always been the province of the city’s young and wealthy, students whose home lives and educations can inspire both disdain and envy. But these students are the children of Shanghai real estate magnates, shipping giants, luxury hotel owners and doctors from coastal regions bordering the East China Sea. They are also part of a small, but growing, cadre of teenagers from wealthy families in China who are attending school in New York City.

According to the Department of Homeland Security, 638 Chinese students with visas attended high schools in the city in 2012, up from 114 five years earlier.

The influx has not been seamless. But the schools — particularly ones with lagging enrollment — have actively sought an international component and parents who can pay full tuition, even if that means accepting students who speak limited English. Chinese students and their parents have seen the schools as a way to gain an advantage on the thousands of students at home who apply to United States colleges every year. They are also availing themselves of a more well-rounded educational model than they find in China, including that decidedly American college application line-item: extracurricular activities.

“At home, I couldn’t do any activities because we had too much work,” said Yijia, 15, who plays basketball at Léman.

A large contingent of Chinese students attends the school, a young for-profit academy trying to generate more interest from applicants.

In September, Léman welcomed 27 Chinese students, about one-fifth of the high school population, and 10 students from other countries.

The students settled into studio apartments in a residential tower on Wall Street above a Tiffany & Company store and across from a Trump office building. The apartments feature marbled bathrooms, bean bags and bunk beds. The students are supervised by a team of houseparents who live in the same building and serve as round-the-clock caretakers to help ease their transition to a new city. The total tuition: $68,000 a year, compared with $36,400 for nonboarders.

When the students are not in classes, which they attend with their American peers, poring over quadratic equations and analyzing passages from American classics like “The Great Gatsby,” they are exploring the city.

They attend Broadway shows and Cirque du Soleil with their houseparents, shop for designer sneakers in SoHo, get manicures at Wall Street spas and eat waffles and cheese-omelet brunches cooked for them every Sunday by one of the school’s chefs.

Léman, known as the Claremont Preparatory Academy before it was purchased two years ago by Meritas, a chain of international boarding schools, is not the only New York City private high school with students from China. However, it is the only one that currently houses them. At the Beekman School in Midtown Manhattan, the school’s four Chinese students board with local families.

Last year, when Avenues: The World School, a for-profit institution in Chelsea, opened its doors, 20 students from Beijing applied. But the school was unable to accept them because of delays in student visa approval, which the school says will be resolved by the time it opens a 200-student international dorm in 2016.

Administrators at Léman say the cross-cultural exchange has enriched the whole school. The Chinese students are discovering Halloween, school dances and plays. The American students are learning how to be welcoming hosts.

“We have a symbiotic relationship going on here,” Drew Alexander, the head of the school, said. Max Rosenthal, a junior, said he was often paired with students from China during class discussions on American Civil War battles or Prohibition-era mores.

“It really helps you to understand the big picture when you have to explain it to someone,” he said.

But other students said that same need to explain could get in the way.

“I love that they are here,” said Osiris Vanible, a 10th grader. “But they don’t understand a lot of what I say. There’s a language barrier that you need to break through.”

That barrier was evident one day last week, during an 11th-grade English class discussion on Toni Morrison’s novel, “Song of Solomon.”

Meng, who has adopted the nickname Monroe, after President James Monroe and her idol Marilyn Monroe, followed the conversation, which centered on the depiction of African-American women and their struggles, and sometimes she interjected points. But at least two of her Chinese classmates were logged into a translation site, plugging in phrases they did not know. Some students were following along in online Mandarin versions of the book. A second teacher sat in the back, taking notes for students who would need them later.

The teacher, Jessica Manners, said some of her international students struggled to grasp nuances that were simple for American students.

“I try to talk more slowly than I normally would,” she said. “And I almost never do cold-calling,” selecting students who do not have their hands raised to answer questions.

Mr. Alexander said foreign students were required to have a “minimum level of proficiency” before being accepted. And once enrolled, many are given different tests and homework assignments as well as more rudimentary reading material than American students. Those who need extra help take a special English-language class.

According to Nicole Xu, a representative from Usaedu International Consulting Group, one of several international agencies that places Chinese students in American schools, this type of full immersion is a main reason Chinese parents are eager to send their children to the United States.

Weiling, the 16-year-old daughter of an entrepreneur from the Mongolian uplands, said her parents had sought out a place where she would learn to negotiate more effectively and become skilled at solving real-world problems. Both are traits she said her parents deemed more American than Chinese and good for business.

“In China, we only learn academics,” she said.

Reached by e-mail, some parents have reported immediate results.

Yulan Hu, Monroe’s mother, said that she noticed a newfound streak of self-sufficiency in her daughter when she arrived in Shanghai for winter break. Monroe, 18, is now on the track team and has learned to swim. But perhaps, most notable, Monroe had declined a longstanding household ritual — breakfast brought to her every morning in bed.

“Literally, she has changed,” she wrote.

New York Times


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13-5-2013 18:10