With the Super Bowl happening Sunday, it’s only natural for the Markson household to talk about it.
“What’s the Super Bowl?” their house guest, William, asked.
As the father, Nick Markson, explained the game to William, it illustrated why William was there.
William is the English name of Shangli Zhou, freshman at Luhe International Education Center in Beijing.
From Jan. 19 through next Saturday, 25 freshmen (known as senior 1) students and two instructors from Luhe, a three-year high school, are visiting Manhattan High and getting acquainted with American life.
The boarding school is designed to help prepare students who want to apply for colleges in America. Most of the school’s students end up in America or England.
While in Manhattan, each student follows the schedule of their MHS student mentor and lives with a host family.
Luhe teacher Shuling Zhou, whose English name is Shirley, said this trip is an important step for the students.
“They really want to have more understanding of American culture and improve their language,” she said. “Also, I think their parents like them to learn something and to be more independent.”
In the past, Shirley said student visits to America were more of a tourist event, seeing the sights and visiting campus.
“That is not enough,” she said. “Studying in the classroom with the local students and living with the family will help the students have more understanding of the culture.”
Shirley said the school wanted to connect with an American high school. She met Jishu Shi, director of the KSU U.S.-China Center for Animal Health, through a mutual friend.
Shi, who frequently travels to China, introduced the group to Manhattan High School, where his daughter attends. Talks with MHS counselor Tony Wichmann, Supt. Bob Shannon and MHS principal Terry McCarty set the program into motion.
It is yet to be determined whether this program will continue, but both sides said they’re hopeful the relationship can continue.
Wichmann is the sponsor of the high school’s AFS Club, whose members are serving as mentors.
He said the mentors and mentees are benefitting from the program, learning about cultural differences and practicing virtues such as patience. “There’s a value in being exposed to somebody from across the globe,” Wichmann said.
The students learned that the structure of the MHS school day differs from their own school.
At Luhe, the students have the same classmates for all of their classes. It is also more based on paper than the technology being increasingly used in American classrooms.
William said his school doesn’t give him any options about what classes he can take, as is the case at MHS.
Luhe student Ziyu Wang, whose English name is Rachel, said she has only been learning English at her school, and there isn’t the opportunity to learn other languages as there is at MHS.
“There are many subjects that we can’t learn in China,” she said. “I’m glad to come here. It’s a good experience for me.”
Shirley said MHS had other subjects not taught at Luhe such as auto technology, band and design.
Both MHS and Luhe start at 7:40 a.m., but while the MHS day ends at 2:57 p.m., hours are still left for Luhe students.
Luhe’s school day includes classes until lunch at noon. Classes start back up from 2 to 6 p.m. After dinner, there’s self-study from 7 to 9:20 p.m.
Compared to his school, William said he found algebra relaxing because it’s easier here than what he’s been learning.
The Marksons’ son, Justin Van Dyke, has noticed. “He’s offered to help me with my math homework, and I’ll probably need it here in a little bit,” said Justin, an MHS sophomore. “It’s different how they teach it over there versus how they teach it here.”
William said his classmates like the different culture they’ve experienced in America.
“We can find something very American here with the host family, in the schools and maybe somewhere like Best Buy,” he said. “There’s no Best Buy in China.”
William said he’s enjoyed the food from the home-cooked meals to fast-food restaurants such as Taco Bell.
“Here, I can taste the Mexican food, of course Americanized,” he said. “Americanized Italian food. Even Americanized Asian food is pretty new for me.”
William said it’s a different home dynamic in America as well with pets, more children and board games.
“Board games are really common in American families and not in China,” he said. “But I can play Monopoly.”
While staying with the Marksons, William and Justin had been engaged in days-long Monopoly games.
Justin isn’t a part of the AFS club, but his family is hosting William after Justin heard about it over the school announcements and wanted to find more information.
“I thought it might be kind of fun and interesting,” he said. “Something new I’d never done before.”
His mother, Heather Markson, said Justin’s interest was the big factor and bringing William in.
“That’s the bulk of it because Justin has to help William get to school and he chose to give up his room,” she said. “If Justin was on board, then it was easy for us to follow and support him.”
When the family arrived at MHS to pick up him up Jan. 19, they looked for a girl named Shangli.
“We actually thought William was going to be a girl because on our sheet he was listed as female,” Heather said.
William looked shocked, apparently never hearing the story before. “Wow,” he said.
Heather said William came wanting to try some things such as American sports. “This isn’t really the season for many American sports,” she said.
One thing William has gotten a chance to do is skateboarding, and he
has the scraped knuckles to prove it.
Justin asked a neighbor whether William could borrow a skateboard.
“He’s recently discovered skateboarding and he’s gotten pretty good at that,” Justin said.
Justin said he doesn’t see William much at school since they don’t have any of the same classes.
“The only time we really see each other is in the morning when I drop him off with his mentor and find him after school,” he said.
MHS sophomore Lisa Zhu, who served as William’s mentor for the first half of the trip, said it’s been fun getting to know all Chinese students.
Zhu’s parents are from China and she visits often.
“I think China is a lot of fun and they’ll have a good time in the U.S. too,” Zhu said.
So far, the students have attended K-State men’s and women’s basketball games, and toured K-State, Fort Riley and the Konza Prairie. They’ll also get a chance to meet Gov. Sam Brownback.
Justin and William, who described themselves as laid-back people, said they’ve bonded doing typical things such as listening to music and playing on the computer. “All teenagers are somewhat similar in a way,” Justin said.
William has learned Manhattan is different from the America he’s seen in movies.
“Americans aren’t what I used to think about,” he said. “They’re not wearing strange clothes.”
William said he’s also begun to pick up on some of the things that MHS students say such as “what’s up,” “buddy behave” and “gangster.”
The family said William has shown himself to be independent, coming home by himself on the bus one day. He also does his laundry and helps with the dishes.
“It’s been a really good experience,” Heather said. “I’m glad he came.”