Day two brought our first foray into the purpose of this trip -- meeting international students. For some reason, I thought we would go to schools or some type of central school office. Instead, we went to a hi-rise tower in the heart of Beijing, to the offices of Baili Top Education Consulting, a major organization that specializes in helping Chinese students study abroad. Instead of classrooms, we were whisked past a sea of cubicles filled with employees engaged with families and other agencies. In addition to setting up these interviews, Baili also had a number of students preparing for the TOEFL Exam (Test of English Foreign Language ).
We started around 10:00 AM. Not unlike our Open Houses, we began with an opening presentation with all the prospective students and their parents. Our host agency, Ivy International, prepared a brief Power Point on each of the seven schools on this trip (there are two from New Jersey, one from Texas, one from Connecticut, one from Portsmouth, and one from California), and delivered it in Mandarin. Each representative also had about a minute to introduce ourselves.
At the conclusion of the presentation, we went to individual “meeting cubicles” and the students started to be brought around by the agents. Each student could select three schools to visit. For some reason, almost everyone wanted to meet the school in California. I had about 20-30 minutes with each candidate, which was a great opportunity to learn about our potential future Bishops and test their preparedness for study in the U.S. – namely, English proficiency.
While it was a cultural experience for me, think about what it must be like to be the candidates. These 13-15 year-old children were brought to a hi-rise in Beijing to meet representatives in the United States for the opportunity to go to high schools they may have only learned about five minutes earlier. Some of the students present were seeking admission for seventh grade so they were even younger! (We don’t take international students for our Grade 7 & 8 Program). One student had traveled three hours that morning from her hometown by high speed rail to be here for the 9:30 presentation. It’s an amazing act of bravery. A few of the students I met were quite accomplished and would be strong candidates for our school.
(In the further realm of coincidences, one of the students had completed an earlier year at Paramus Catholic High School in Paramus, New Jersey, which is the alma mater of one of the other school representatives on this trip. As a claim to fame, the city of Paramus has the oldest indoors shopping malls in the United States.)
Now, while I was somewhat prepared for the interviews, I was not prepared for lunch. After two straight days of wonderful, traditional Chinese meals, the host agency bought us a giant pizza. It was surprisingly tasty.
Our interviews ended early, which gave us the opportunity to do some bonus sightseeing in Beijing. We went to Peking University, which is one of the premier universities in China. It was half campus, half public park. While the school contained some magnificent late 19th century Chinese architecture, the highlight was probably the frozen pond. While there was one section for ice skating, there was another section for something akin to cross-country sledding. People sat in chairs with gliding blades and propelled themselves with short ski poles. If we had more time, we would have tried it out as it looked like a blast.
After our walking tour of the university, we hopped in our bus and have now safely landed in Qingdao, which is on the east coast of China, southeast of Beijing and about 450 miles north of Shanghai. Looking forward to another great day tomorrow.