Thirty Chinese students ready to visit Middlebury

MIDDLEBURY — It may be summer vacation, but 30 students will be traveling halfway around the world to attend classes at Middlebury Union High School later this month.

Those students will be coming from the cities of Chongchiang and Guizhou in southern China, through a program coordinated by Burlington-based SPIRAL International. Founded in 2010, SPIRAL International is a non-profit educational organization that promotes inter-cultural learning, understanding and relationships through international student placement services and exchange programs.

SPIRAL representatives recently lobbied MUHS to become a regular participant in annual, educational student exchanges with China, according to Michelle Steele, a French teacher at the high school. MUHS officials determined the program would be a good fit, which led to SPIRAL organizing this summer’s inaugural exchange that will involve 30 Chinese students, ranging in age from 13 to 17. They are due to arrive in Middlebury on July 23 and stay until Aug. 4. While here, the students will reside with local families, receiving English instruction at MUHS while going on a variety of field trips throughout the state.

Sixteen Middlebury-area students will in turn travel to China next summer, where the visiting students’ families will return the favor and introduce their U.S. peers to Chinese culture, language and landmarks.

“I think it’s so exciting to build what will hopefully be and ongoing relationship between Middlebury and China,” said Steele, part of a team of local educators who will lead the visiting students through a slate of English lessons and activities that will include visits to the Kingsland Bay State Park, the Waterbury Reservoir, the ECHO Lake Center, Shelburne Farms, Ben & Jerry’s and Sugarbush Mountain Resort.

Steele said the 30 students will arrive with a working knowledge of English. While here, they will be taught how to better converse in English through lessons that will have a tie-in to the subsequent field trips. For example, students could be schooled in asking directions and using money, then be sent on a scavenger hunt in downtown Middlebury.

But the visit will be about more than academics, Steele stressed.

“These students are coming from urban areas (of China),” Steele said. “We want to introduce them to the culture of Vermont.”

To that end, organizers of the exchange are seeking host families to house the students, provide them with their daily meals and provide transportation to and from MUHS each day. The program will provide a stipend to host families to defray transportation and food costs, Steele noted.

As the Addison Independent went to press, organizers were still looking to place 14 incoming students with host families. Families interested in hosting should be within a 15-mile radius of MUHS and can contact Steel at msteele@addisoncentralsu.org.

Sixteen Middlebury-area student “ambassadors” will help educate and entertain their Chinese peers while in town. Those ambassadors will visit China next summer. All of the students involved in the exchange will bear a substantial share of their travel costs as participants in the SPIRAL program. For the Middlebury students, it will amount to more than $3,000 each, according to Steele, who said fund-raising activities will be organized to help draw down some of the expenses.

She believes the cost will be worth it for the students, who could someday parlay their new knowledge of the Mandarin Chinese dialect and China into careers in international affairs.

“It is important for our students to see beyond Vermont,” Steele said.

Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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