- Associated Press - Monday, May 16, 2016

HYANNIS, Mass. (AP) - To demonstrate her role as a nun in St. John Paul II High School’s production of “The Sound of Music,” Circle Yuan placed her hands together in prayer and bowed.

The vivacious 17-year-old from Hong Kong had never experienced formal religious training before arriving at the Catholic high school in Hyannis this fall.

But like 15 other students from China at St. John Paul, Yuan attends Catholic retreats and prayer services with the rest of her classmates while pursuing a private school education that she hopes will lead to a spot at an American university.

“Here I can get a better chance,” said Yuan, who goes by the name Chuhan in China and hopes to become a neurosurgeon.

While private high schools in the U.S. have been experiencing an influx of Chinese students for several years now, seats at Christian schools are becoming increasingly popular with students from the Asian superpower.

This is the second year St. John Paul, which has 275 students, has accommodated students from China.

Next year, 20 students from China plan to attend the school, which opened just nine years ago, said Head of School Christopher W. Keavy.

“We’ve gotten to the point where we want to be,” Keavy said.

Any more foreign students could cause a shift in the school culture, and the Chinese students “want the American experience,” he said.

For Chinese students, that means attending prom - and shopping for formal dresses - joining clubs, playing sports and doing volunteer work.

Yuan, an intern at Cape Cod Hospital, said such an experience would not be available to her in secondary school in China.

The students said their academic schedule back home was more rigid and geared to passing a national college entrance exam, gaokao, that comes with extremely high stakes.

“You can only take it once,” without repeating the whole year, Yuan said.

“Activities make the school better,” said Simon Zhang, 18, from northwest China, a graduating senior who is one of four elected student council members at St. John Paul.

Zhang labored for two days over his election campaign speech and asked an English teacher to edit and re-edit.

“Grammar stuff is tough,” he said.

The Chinese students all took English in their country, but it was the type of formal, stilted language that Americans don’t actually speak, they said.

“It was, ‘Hello, how are you?’” said Sarah Xia, who goes by Xin in her hometown of Shanghai.

“Fine? And you? I’m good too!” Yuan and Zhang replied with a laugh.

“The first time someone asked me, ‘What’s up?’ I don’t know how to answer,” Xia said. “I said, ‘Um, I’m tired.’”

Getting a chance to practice her English in the U.S. will improve her chances of getting into a U.S. university, Xia said.

“America has the best colleges,” said Zhang, who goes by the name Jiahao in China. He has been accepted to and plans to attend Bryant University in Rhode Island in the fall.

According to the Institute of International Education, 23,000 students from China currently attend high school in the U.S.

The trend is most pronounced at private schools, where international students can attend for as long as they like.

Federal law prohibits international tuition-paying students from attending public school for more than a year.

The Chinese students- who tend to be from prosperous families -bring not only tuition funds to their schools but stipends for host families and fees for the many management agencies that have popped up to serve as intermediaries between students and schools.

Some Christian schools in the Boston area are even building dormitory rooms for international students, most of whom are from China.

On Cape Cod, schools that educate Chinese students rely on host families to house their young charges.

Xia said she went away to boarding school in first grade, so she’s used to being away from home.

But being the only sophomore from China last year was a little intimidating, she said, although the American students welcomed her.

She said when she saw someone with Asian looks at the Cape Cod Mall she approached the student, who turned out to be from China and enrolled at Cape Cod Academy.

“I said, ‘Oh, are you Chinese?’” Xia said.

Cape Cod Academy began accepting Chinese students about five years ago and currently has the Cape’s largest contingent, with 25 students at the secondary level and two in eighth grade.

The experience has been good for the more sheltered Cape Cod students, said Joe Remillard, interim dean of Cape Cod Academy’s lower school and international program director.

“It kind of opens our eyes a little bit,” he said.

Private schools- including Christian schools -also are finding Chinese demand for an American education to be a financial boon during a time of declining enrollment.

“We can’t deny it helps our bottom line,” Remillard said, noting that the school has a long history of hosting students from a long list of foreign countries.

“Now our kids have exposure and make friends with people from the other side of the world,” Remillard said.

Currently, students from China make up one-quarter of Cape Cod Academy’s upper school, which has 99 students.

The picture is much different at Falmouth Academy, which has two students from China among its 132 secondary students this year and has never accommodated more than five in the past four years, said Karen Loder, director of admissions and enrollment manager at Falmouth Academy.

“We’re very strict about capping,” Loder said. “We’re not interested in having an influx of students that would change our school’s culture.”

Falmouth Academy also makes sure that all the families who host Chinese students are Falmouth Academy families, Loder said.

“The first year for most students is an adjustment for sure,” Loder said, but she said the school tries to pair hosts and Chinese students who have similar interests- such as soccer.

The demand for an American education is so great that the academy- like most U.S. schools accommodating Chinese students -works with a “middleman,” in this case Cambridge International, Loder said.

“We interview (the students) as well,” Loder said. She said Falmouth Academy looks for students with strong English skills, a good academic record and a willingness to be involved in extracurricular activities as well as “a certain fortitude and resilience.”

“We are very careful about who we select,” Loder said.

While Cape Cod Academy and Falmouth Academy are both secular schools, Christian schools are seeing a surge in interest from Chinese students.

Foreign Policy, a magazine published by a division of the Washington Post, obtained data from the Department of Homeland Security via the Freedom of Information Act that showed 58 percent of the F-1 visas given to Chinese high school students in 2014 and the first quarter of 2015 were for Catholic or Christian schools.

Even tiny Trinity Christian Academy in Hyannis is interested in exploring the option of having international students, said admissions director Denise Murdock.

But the school is proceeding carefully, starting with having school officials attend a conference about the responsibilities associated with such a program, she said.

Christian school officials say their role is not to proselytize, but they do not deny their schools’ religious missions, either.

Students are expected to participate in the religious requirements of the school, said Mona Lisa Valentino, assistant principal at St. John Paul II High School.

“They understand our culture. They understand our expectations,” Valentino said.

While Yuan practiced her role as a nun singing “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria” for this weekend’s school production, Xia, whose family is Buddhist, tried to grasp some Bible passages by reading them in Chinese.

“Sometimes it’s a little bit confusing, but it’s OK,” Xia said.

___

Information from: Cape Cod (Mass.) Times, https://www.capecodtimes.com

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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