Chinese students arrive in Durham as part of exchange program

Jul. 20, 2013 @ 08:15 PM

About 40 students from Chengdu, the capital of the Sichuan Province in southwest China, made a beeline off the bus into Camelot Academy’s gravel lot.

Dozens of Durham host families waited Saturday evening with handmade signs, waving them high so the teens could find their names in the crowd.

This is the third year Camelot Academy has hosted teenage visitors from China. The two-week-long summer program will mix American and Chinese students in a whirlwind of language and cultural immersion. Students will spend half of their class time at Carolina Friends School, where they will participate in summer extracurriculars.

Scott Mitchell, the academy’s director of admission, said the group will visit Bennett Place and learn about Civil War history. They’ll take a tour of one of Duke University’s research labs and learn the ways of American scientific discovery.

But most importantly, Mitchell said, they’ll discover what it’s like to live in an American home. Visiting Durham will dispel the TV stereotype of living in a flashy New York City or Beverly Hills household.

“They get to see what it’s like to live in this country with typical American families,” he said.

Camelot Academy’s students, ranging in age from 11 to 18, will take Chinese language and culture classes from Chinese teachers, the trip chaperones from Chengdu. Mitchell said this partnership may eventually lead to the school offering Chinese language as a permanent class.

The Brooks family waited with their sign in the parking lot. Eleven-year-old Langston had used different markers to spell out their students’ names, Harry Liang and Daniel Lu, and punctuated the sign with a smiley face.

“I really want my son to be more exposed to global opportunities,” said his mother, Margie Spain-Brooks.

“I’m expecting a lot of fun and to learn about Chinese and to learn about their culture,” said Langston, a student at Cresset Christian Academy.

As part of their two-week schedule, the Chinese and American students will go on field trips together after their morning classes. On Monday, they will pay a visit to Durham Mayor Bill Bell. Other trip locations include the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, bowling alleys and roller skating rinks.

The program is organized by the RTP International Culture Exchange, which is located in Research Triangle Park and provides exchange programs and services.

Durham is just one of their pit-stops during a month-long journey across America. The Chinese visitors have already visited big cities along the East coast, such as Philadelphia and D.C., but this will be their U.S. visit “off the beaten path,” Mitchell said.

“The environment is very beautiful,” said Shi Hongwei, one of the visiting teachers from Chengdu.

Another visiting teacher, Ou Ying, said, “We’re excited to meet the host families and the children in the host school.”

Durham resident Nellys Nunez drew four names on her sign with a black marker while she waited for them to arrive. She’s hosting four boys, and she said she’s looking forward to cooking them authentic Venezuelan food, such as cornmeal cakes stuffed with beef, chicken or cheese.

Besides exchanging Chinese and Spanish phrases, Nunez said she’s planning to take her guests to the Durham Museum of Life and Science and to Jordan Lake.

In Venezuela, she was raised on a dairy farm with 11 people in her family. She has a big house here, she said, which she always likes to fill with people.

“I always wanted to have a big family,” she said.

And while she shares her culture and the Durham sights with her four exchange students, she will.