LA Enclave Encourages Chinese Teens Furthering Their Education
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Now to the suburbs east of Los Angeles where thousands of students have arrived recently with one thing in mind, getting into a good American university. China already sends more college students to the U.S. than any other country, but in the San Gabriel Valley, which is known locally as China Valley because of its huge number of Chinese immigrants, it's now high school students studying for a prized university admission. Josie Huang from member station KPCC has more.
JOSIE HUANG, BYLINE: In the halls of Arroyo Pacific Academy, you hear Mandarin accents from all over - Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou. More than 70 percent of the students are from China.
AMBER ZANG: My name's Amber Zang (ph). I'm from the south part of China.
HUANG: Officials at this private school used to recruit in China to boost enrollment. Now they don't have to. In recent years, growing numbers of wealthy Chinese have decided that putting their kids in American high schools will help them get into good American colleges. Amber, who's 17 and the only child of doctors, says it's funny she's going to an American school only to hang out with a lot of other Chinese kids.
AMBER: Right now we just speak Chinese all the time. We should practice English more.
HUANG: They're called parachute kids because they're being dropped off to study in the states while living with relatives or host families. Most are at private schools because U.S. immigration law says international students can go to public schools for just one year and must reimburse the school district. Once here, these students are exposed to a very different kind of education.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: All right, we're going to start by shaking everything out. Shake out, stretch.
HUANG: At practice for a school play, Amber and the rest of the young cast warm-up with their drama coach.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Everybody say, hey, hey, hey.
UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: Hey, hey, hey.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Hello.
UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: Hello.
AMBER: In China if we have class, for sure we are sitting down like on a chair - not a lot of time to have fun like this.
HUANG: That's because someone her age is supposed to focus on one thing and one thing only - Gaokao. That's China's National College Entrance Exam. It's given just once a year and takes nine hours to complete. Jesitso (ph), a senior at Arroyo Pacific, says when he was in China, he used to stay at school until 10 at night prepping for Gaokao.
JESITSO: If you do not very well in Gaokao, that means your life is done. Most people think that.
HUANG: Your life is done? That seems so extreme. But Yong Zhao gets why Chinese students think that. He's a professor at the University of Oregon who studies China's educational system. And he says where you go to school decides what jobs you get.
YOUNG ZHAO: There's Chinese employers that sometimes say, you know, those who are not graduates of top elite universities need not to apply.
HUANG: Coming to the U.S. does get Chinese students out of Gaokao, but they're still expected to aim for the best universities in the U.S.
DAVID HO: You've got Harvard, you've got Princeton and Yale as a big three. Some would be delighted at UCLA and USC.
HUANG: That's David Ho (ph). He runs a tutoring center in the San Gabriel Valley where Chinese students come for academic help after school. It's one of many tutoring businesses in the area.
HO: Within this two-block frame, there's probably 12.
HUANG: Educating a Chinese high schooler in the U.S. is not cheap. Add up tutoring sessions, staying with a host family and private school tuition and that's going to cost you upwards of $45,000 a year. But money's not a barrier for many families. What can be tough is separation between parents and children. Ariana Sun (ph) is studying at a public school and says she hates saying bye to her parents.
ARIANA SUN: I will feel very terrible for about two weeks or more than two weeks.
HUANG: Sociologists say loneliness can be a problem for parachute kids. Most focus on their studies but some act out. Amber Zang (ph) says some schoolmates ignore homework, preferring to play and spend their parents' money on luxury brands.
AMBER: Their shoes are really expensive - like, average is, like, $1,000 a pair of shoes.
HUANG: But she's the granddaughter of farmers and steelworkers and her doctor parents don't let her forget that.
AMBER: My parents, they were born poor and they work hard. So since I grow up, that they always tell me that you need to try hard.
HUANG: That doesn't mean she'll follow in her parent's footsteps. She wants to go to UCLA film school and make movies. For NPR News, I'm Josie Huang.