Around 80 students from China have spent the summer in Chester, New Hampshire, practicing their English and learning more about American culture.
Almost none of these kids had been to New Hampshire before. Most hadn’t even heard of New Hampshire. So, what is their first impression?
“I think New Hampshire is a great state. Very beautiful,” says Leo, age 12.
(Editor's note: we highly recommend listening to this story.)
Leo and his classmates are nearing the end of Busche Academy’s six-week long language immersion program. Busche Academy is owned by a Jia Hui Education Group, a private Chinese company. A few years ago, it bought the former campus of Chester College and launched a summer school for kids ages 9-12 years old.
Most of the day is spent inside newly renovated classrooms, where native English teachers including Mrs. Deb (officially, Deb Freiburger) run through lessons and assign homework. There’s also gym class and music.
All of these students are from Dalian, China, a coastal city in the northeastern part of the country. Their parents spend approximately $8,000 to send them here for the summer language program. It’s a good chunk of money, but think of it as a down payment.
“I will learn some English too because in the future I will study in America,” explains Grace, 12.
Western universities are a huge draw for these families: they believe mastering English and getting a deeper understanding of American culture will help when it’s time to apply for colleges. One of the first field trips these kids take upon arrival is to the campuses of MIT and Harvard.
Busche Academy is overseen by Lei Wang, who lives year-round in Salem. He says some parents in China do scratch their heads a bit when they hear his program, which is one of a growing number in the U.S., is based in small-town New Hampshire. But when he tells Busche it’s close to Boston, “they said, oh that’s a good place. So okay, no problem. We send our kids go to there,” says Wang with a laugh.
And these are kids. Learning English may be the focus, but it’s not the only highlight. After classes are over for the day, everyone streams out onto the quad to play soccer and badminton. Some kids beat the heat inside with ping pong and board games.
Along with free time, the students uniformly share a passion for food.
“They really love the typical pizza, cheeseburger, those types of things,” says Riana Cleveland, who leads the academic program at Busche, and also teaches at Chester Academy during the school year.
The dining hall here can fit up to 150 students at a time, which is helpful because this school is growing. The parent company plans to offer a year-round program for Chinese students, but gaining accreditation will take time.
“When you start an international school, you have to have everyone’s approval. So we are seeking approval on many different levels,” says Jill Hartmann, director at Busche Academy and a Chester resident.
Hartmann says Busche is looking to partner with other local private schools. The students from China would go to class during the day at those established schools, but live on Busche’s campus where they would receive additional language training in the evening.
That’s the long-term vision. In the short-term, the students are getting in a few last minute field trips before the summer’s over. That includes sending 80 kids who know nothing about baseball to a New Hampshire Fisher Cats game. They buy hot dogs and cotton candy, marvel at foul balls, and wind up leaving after the fourth inning because it’s nearing bedtime.
“I think baseball was very funny and I like it,” offers Maxwell.
Baseball can be very funny, but it is also uniquely American, and seeing America firsthand is, after all, why these kids spent their summer here.