Molina says that Wings was approached last year by Burlington-based SPIRAL (Special Programs for Intercultural Relationships and Learning) to establish an intercultural institute. SPIRAL, according to its website, specializes in placing Chinese students in American schools and homes to “gain confidence in English with the goal of enrolling at an American university.”
“It was presented to us as a fundraiser for the Wings Community Programs, and we took them up on it,” says Molina. This summer’s exchange was the second undertaken by Wings. Thirty Chinese students and two teacher chaperones participated in the program from July 16 to July 29, staying with several families in Deerfield Valley communities. Hosted at Twin Valley High School, The Chinese Institute’s program consisted of English classes in the morning, a short break, and activities and community programming in the afternoon. Students travelled to various destinations in the area through the institute, participating in a downtown scavenger hunt in Wilmington, trips to Dartmouth College and a senior center in Jacksonville, and a visit to the Southern Vermont Natural History Museum.
Maureen Drummey, who says she “knew absolutely nothing” about China before Haurong visited, heard about the institute and the opportunity to host students through friends. Word-of-mouth, school newsletters, and Facebook posts tipped local families off to the call for hosts.
Drummey drove Haurong and her sons to their various summer destinations every morning and picked up the family in the afternoon for dinner and time on the family’s boat. “This group was really good and had a great time with their families,” says Molina, whose assessment was confirmed by the Drummeys’ experience. Drummey and her boys say that the boat and the dinner table were where some of the weeks’ most informative conversations took place.
Thomas Drummey, 12, says food was the area about which he learned the most from Haurong. “I learned that different areas of China eat different kinds of food. We eat quite a bit of sweet food—pancakes, syrup, stuff like that,” he said of his family and of Vermonters and Americans generally. William, 7, says that going boating was his favorite part of Haurong’s stay.
“We were go-go-go because it was hot. We’d go to the boat in the afternoon,” says Maureen Drummey.
Also critical to the program were “cultural ambassadors,” students from local schools who helped to facilitate daily programming. Tucker Boyd, a student at Twin Valley Middle School, worked with the Institute as one of these ambassadors. Boyd is a ninth-grader who will attend Twin Valley High School next year and says that he jumped at the opportunity to work as a cultural ambassador. Specifically, Boyd was attracted to the idea of teaching English. “I liked the English instruction because I want to be an English teacher,” he said.
“Each day, we’d spend a certain amount of time focusing on something important in English.” Language activities included storytelling, speaking, and language games. The program also included comparisons of American and Chinese culture, examining cultural variations in concepts such as nature and competition.
In addition, Boyd was interested in learning firsthand about the experiences of exchange students; Boyd is hoping to travel to France next year to participate in a home-stay. His experience with The Chinese Institute provided him with helpful insights. “I learned about the place where I live by showing people where I live. When the students came in the beginning, we kept talking about how there’s blue in the sky,” something he hadn’t given much thought to before. “I think it was an amazing experience. I definitely want to do it again next year.”
Boyd and the Drummeys agree that the Institute’s most enriching aspect was introducing new places and experiences to students. The Drummeys, for their part, hope to stay in touch with Haurong via FaceTime. Before he left, he and the family exchanged terra cotta soldiers and Marvel comics. At deadline, the family was en route to Chinatown in New York.