FARMINGTON — Leanne Condon, Regional School Unit 9 assistant superintendent, gained insight into Chinese culture on visit to China in November to assist in continued development of RSU 9’s International Student Program.

Mt. Blue Campus is in its second year of developing its program for students from other countries, who can pay tuition and room and board for up to a year to attend school at the campus where Mt. Blue High School and Foster Career and Technical Education Center are located.

The main reason for the visit was to begin to understand the Chinese culture, said Condon, who is also RSU 9’s director of curriculum.

“I had no idea that I would learn so much about the Chinese people in 10 days,” she said.

Condon was in China to participate in the Chinese Bridge Delegation program, which aims to help educators start or strengthen their school’s Chinese programs and partnerships. The majority of the trip’s expenses were paid for by Hanban North America Education Inc.

RSU 9 began its international program in the 2014-15 school year, after high school world language teacher Lisa Dalrymple received school board approval for the program. She presented a three-year plan to develop a program to accept international students who pay tuition and room and board to attend the Farmington school. The district is a year ahead of the plan and has international students.

Dalrymple is the program coordinator.

The revenue will be used to re-establish RSU 9’s elementary world language program that was cut in 2010 because of budget constraints. Its purpose is also to create a stronger world language program overall. 

“It was really eye-opening,” Condon said of her experience. “It really helped me to see the enormity of creating an international student program.”

While other countries have similarities with the U.S., the Chinese culture is very different, she said.

In Chinese culture, education means everything to families, and they live their life around their one child and his or her education, Condon said.

In China, most students attend school from 7:30 a.m. to 9 or 9:30 p.m. before going home to do homework until 11 p.m. There is a two-hour break for lunch and tutorial for students who need extra help. There is also a half-hour break for dinner. Students attend school five days a week and a half day on Saturdays.

Students are not allowed to leave campus, but families may bring hot meals to their children. The street fills up with parents bringing hot meals to give to their student, she said.

“When I spoke to a class of students, several of them indicated they felt a lot of pressure to excel at their studies,” Condon said.

When she spoke with English teachers, they expressed the same thing.

Condon plans to use her knowledge to try to build host families within the school district.

“I can speak to host families with a little bit of knowledge about the culture,” she said.

She was surprised that students in China had a real awareness that there is a different way to live.

“They also are willing to speak out about their displeasure at the pressure, expectations and lengthy school day,” Condon said.

She was impressed with the system and the family culture.

Dalrymple has been reaching out and working with embassies in countries willing to create an international program, Condon said.

Among the countries she has been working with are Vietnam, Japan and Brazil, as well as China.

“One of the things I realized is it can not be a one-person project,” Condon said.

While working to strengthen the program through different avenues, the district is working with a very large school in China, which is also looking at curriculum, she said. The district will also look at offering shorter experiences to Chinese students throughout the year.

“Another major difference I noticed is that Chinese students are more worldly than our students,” she said. “One of the things about our students is there is a real interest in critical thinking, creativity and using their imaginations.”

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