Lowell Whiteman School welcomes international student from China
February 18, 2012
Steamboat Springs — After a 15-hour flight to Denver and a long bus ride to Steamboat Springs last month, Jiacong Kyle Wu arrived at a school thousands of miles away from his home.
There would be snow, mountains and language barriers to navigate. A perfect fit wasn't guaranteed at his new campus nestled along a picturesque county road.
Still, the 16-year-old from Qingdao, China, said Wednesday that he wanted to enjoy the snow, small class sizes and academic excellence The Lowell Whiteman School offered.
"It was exciting but also nerve-wracking," he said about his journey. "It's so different in China. The culture is different, and the lifestyle is different. Everything is different. I chose this school because there is no Chinese."
Sitting in a cabin at Whiteman on Wednesday, the Yampa Valley's newest international student said he's learning new words — powder day and Valentine's Day came to mind — making new friends and trudging on his way to class through powder that never coated his coastal hometown metropolis. He also hopes that the absence of Mandarin Chinese on campus will help him learn to speak English more fluently and that his experience in Steamboat will allow him to study business at an American university.
"American education is the best in the world," he said after he explained that in his hometown of more than 8 million people, classes sometimes had 60 to 70 students. He usually encounters just five in Whiteman's classrooms.
The intimacy of the campus allows more one-on-one time with teachers, he added.
Months after learning about Whiteman on a brochure and then meeting Head of School Chris Taylor on his recruiting trip to the world's most populous country last year, Kyle, as he's known to his classmates, is learning to snowboard for the first time.
He is among the first Chinese students to study at Whitman, which historically has hosted a small group of international students, and he won't be the last. Next school year, the boarding school plans to enroll three or four more Chinese students from cities including Beijing and Shanghai as part of a new recruiting initiative.
Whiteman administrators call Kyle and those who will follow him from China pioneers of a program they hope will connect two cultures thousands of miles apart from each other.
"Steamboat can be such a sheltered or a narrow place because it's a mountain town, and there's not a lot of perspective here," Whiteman Director of Admissions Derek Svennungsen said. "Having someone like Kyle, who is from a city in China and who has been brought up in a totally different educational system and a totally different cultural system, is going to benefit everyone. The fact he can come and be comfortable here, I think, speaks to the type of kids we have. I hope it makes them feel like, 'Hey, this is pretty good, and we can develop a strong relationship with someone from the other side of the world.'"
In addition to bringing foreign students to Colorado, administrators have said the school is working to develop a teacher swap program that will have a Whiteman teacher leading English classes in China and a teacher from that country teaching Mandarin Chinese at Whiteman.
The new recruiting destination also is a welcome addition to the school that started this school year with about 17 fewer students than it had during the previous one.
As students from China enroll at Whiteman, seniors in the school's Global Immersion Studies program are preparing to travel to Beijing, Chengdu and rural areas of China in the spring.
Margi Missling-Root, director of experiential learning at Whiteman, said in November that because China has opened up more to the West in recent years, students at her school now have a greater opportunity to learn about and understand the culture.
At 3 p.m. Friday, Kyle and his new Whiteman friend Jake Zonies were waiting at a Steamboat hotel for a bus to take them to Jake's home in Broomfield for their midwinter break.
"He's cool," Jake, a freshman, said about Kyle. "He's a little bit different from everyone else, but that's going to happen with someone from a foreign country. It's expected. He's learned to fit in pretty well, and he's made a bunch of friends."
Jake said Kyle has taught him that in China, schools are a lot bigger. He's also learned Kyle cares deeply for the family he left behind.
"I talk to them as often as I can on Skype," Kyle said, noting the time difference between Steamboat and his home. "I miss them."
Kyle and Jake said they plan to spend the break on the Front Range "hanging out" and playing paintball.
"We're going to have some fun," Jake said.
To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com