Riya Chakraborty made an instant friend when pen pal Zhi Ru Liu arrived at Young Scholars of Central PA Charter School on Thursday from China.
The two have been in contact since September through an online forum.
Zhi Ru Liu, 12, was one of 11 other Chinese students — ages 9 to 13 — and two teachers from the Attached School of Dalian University of Technology in Dalian, China, who will attend class at Young Scholars until Friday.
Chinese students get to experience a week in the life of an American school, and the Young Scholars students get to interact with peers from their sister school, Young Scholars CEO Levent Kaya said.
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The Chinese students are living with host families for the week, where the students get a taste of community life, Young Scholars science teacher and host Abby Dreibelbis said.
“So far, things have been very fun,” said XinYu Shi, 12, who added that she had already adjusted to the 13-hour time difference just one day after she landed in the United States.
The Attached School of Dalian University of Technology is on break until the end of February to celebrate the Chinese new year.
The Confucius Institute at Penn State is partnered with Dalian University and oversees the attached school. When representatives from China came to State College last year, they made an agreement to partner with Young Scholars, with a mission to educate each other about the different cultures, Kaya said.
“I believe this is going to be an ongoing partnership,” he said.
In September, Young Scholars students were assigned Chinese pen pals they connected via the Web.
Young Scholars world language coordinator Kathy Miller said students were encouraged to write to their buddies in Chinese. In return, teachers Yao Wang and Jie Zhao encouraged their students to write back to their pals in English.
“It’s a learning opportunity,” Yao Wang said. “This is the first time they came to America. Some kids think it’s the land of milk and honey. All they know is what they see on the television, and want to see more.”
Activities included a welcome ceremony Thursday morning, an ice-breaker activity and attendance at daily classes. They also are taking part in classroom activities such as making Chinese dumplings and participating in extracurricular activities.
An event at Penn Skates also was planned.
“They’re all so hardworking and kind to us,” Yao Wang said.
Zhi Ru Liu and classmate Xin Yu Shi said they enjoyed learning some phrases in Spanish classes.
“It is hard, but I can say some things,” Xin Yu Shi said.
As for the advanced seventh- and eighth-grade math classes, the Chinese students said it was the easiest.
“We already (learned) that,” Zhi Ru Liu said.
And the best part for the Young Scholars students was making a new friend.
“It’s nice getting to know other kids from different cultures,” said Alsou Umarova, 12. “We get to meet new people and be a part of (a) program you don’t get at other schools.”
Kaya said they plan to send students and teachers to China, and establish a sister school in a Spanish-speaking country.