TRAVERSE CITY — Kathy Sorenson left Traverse City in 1992 because she wanted her children to grow up in a more diverse city.
“I told my husband, ‘We can’t stay here; it’s not diverse here. It’s like Pleasantville,’” she said. “I knew if I was going to stay here, my kids would have limited exposure. I laughed about it. I thought it was the funniest city I’d ever seen.”
Sorenson said she left Traverse City instead of trying to change it, but worries some people are trying to do just that by “importing diversity.” Traverse City Area Public Schools plans to enroll up to 200 Chinese high school students, while Northwestern Michigan College aims to boost international enrollment from 21 this fall to about 230, or about 5 percent of total enrollment.
“It’s a beautiful, beautiful city here, but you can change it on a dime,” warned Sorenson, a registered nurse who has since returned to the area. “You can’t go to Dearborn without feeling like you’re in a foreign country. I worked for the Henry Ford Hospital. They changed all the signs to add Arabic. Catering to the Arabic population who refuses to assimilate to American English has ruined that great city for our family. That’s what’s going to happen here. They’ll have a little Chinese street down here.”
Yet others randomly interviewed welcomed the change. Many said they’ve hosted foreign exchange students.
“I think it’s a good idea,” said Ben Shemberger of Thompsonville, who takes criminal justice classes at NMC and works at The Oaks Correctional Facility in Manistee. “All the races are changing, mixing with everything else. So why not the schools?”
Jerry Lown, who retired from Concrete Services in Traverse City, said he’s hosted exchange students for 16 years, mostly from Japan. He enjoyed teaching his Chinese student, Xiao Lee, how to speak English. Now she owns and runs a restaurant in Wales.