Traverse City Record-Eagle

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December 16, 2013

Culture crash course

TRAVERSE CITY — Students from China's largest K-12 private education group are expected to travel nearly 6,500 miles to attend Traverse City Area Public Schools next year.

They'll be the first of many students who participate in an ambitious cultural exchange proposal between the Beijing-based Weiming Education Group and TCAPS that could bring up to 200 Chinese students to live and study in Traverse City for years to come.

TCAPS officials will help the Chinese students adjust to their new surroundings when they arrive, but some natives of China who already live in Traverse City said the students themselves need to play a large role in overcoming linguistic and cultural differences they're sure to encounter.

Xueyuan Zhao, who hails from northern China and owns the restaurant Panda North on South Airport Road, moved to Traverse City about 15 years ago and met her husband Jeffrey Liu. Language proved to be Zhao's biggest barrier to settling in when she arrived stateside; she could read and write well but often struggled with pronunciation. She gave prospective exchange students from Beijing a simple piece of advice.

“Don’t worry too much," Zhao said. "Everything will go well. The people are nice, but spend more time on the language.”

Zhao and Liu -- who is Taiwanese, not Chinese -- described Traverse City as a "quiet, nice, beautiful city." Liu said Traverse City's Asian population is small, but overall the community has treated him and his family well.

"Mostly, the people here are warm-hearted," he said. "Probably Traverse City is the best choice for us."

Yiling Liu, a Mandarin teacher at TCAPS' International School at Bertha Vos, agreed. She moved to Traverse City about a year and a half ago and said she's been welcomed.

Liu said Weiming students will have more free time than they're used to in China, and she encouraged them to get involved in extra curricular activities like sports or music programs.

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