It seems that with the start of each new school year, the number of international students in my classes increases. Names like Yeonhui, and HaEun appear on my attendance list next to Nicholas, Samantha, and Adam.
Incorporating these international students into the student body at Unity Christian High School (an independent Christian high school of about six hundred students located in Hudsonville, MI) has been a journey of trial and error. Unity Principal/CEO Jerry DeGroot notes that “after a few years of having international students, we have become more aware of the cultural differences of the western and eastern cultures.” This has been most apparent to DeGroot in his perception of why parents from eastern cultures choose to send their kids around the world for an education. “Many times I wonder if some of these students were sent by their parents as the final way of seeing if their child could succeed. I have seen the end product for many of these students is to graduate from a private school and be accepted into a large American university in order to be looked at by their family as being successful.”
In addition to the challenges that all high school students face: making friends, fitting in, negotiating relationships with parents and siblings, completing homework, and taking part in extracurricular activities and a social life, most international students need to do all this in a language other than their home language.
After a few years of watching faculty and staff struggle to provide adequate support to international students, DeGroot and Unity’s guidance counselors saw the need for change. “We assigned one of our counselors (Julie Essebaggers) to be the coordinator of our international program in order to provide the program with a clearer direction,” said DeGroot.
While the program now had a clear direction, challenges remained. As with DeGroot, Essebaggers is quick to point out that cultural differences get in the way of providing international students with the help they need.
Mark Brink teaches English at Unity Christian High School in Hudsonville, MI.