The Christian Science Monitor

For Chinese high-schoolers, there’s value to living and learning in Iowa

Chinese student Tiffany Yang (l.) helps local student Annika Reed use chopsticks. Source: Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff

When the buzzer sounds, Ivy Chen has five minutes to get to her second class on the first day of school. At the door stands Prushia Golden, a student ambassador, who leads Ivy down the corridor, past the beige lockers, and into a fast-moving stream of athletic wear and streaked hair, the shouts and slaps of teenagers back together after summer break. 

As she walks, Ivy hugs her books to her chest. She wears a crisp white jacket and bright-green sneakers; her black bangs cover her forehead. She knows that Prushia is in precalculus, her next class, and then she sees Eason Yuan, a fellow student from China, who is also headed there. Ivy looks relieved. At this stage – day one of her junior year – she knows all of 10 students in this cavernous high school in an American city that she first set eyes on only two days earlier. 

Ivy and Eason find a table in the classroom and wait for the teacher to begin. He checks off everyone’s name and then seats them in groups of five. “Introduce yourselves to the group,” he says. “Tell them one thing that you enjoyed about summer and one thing that you didn’t enjoy.” Ivy smiles and volunteers first. “My name is Ivy,” she begins. 

China is already the largest market outside the United States for college recruiters. Its students made up around one-third of the 1.1 million international students enrolled in higher education in the US for the 2016-17 school year. Now Chinese are attending US high schools in record numbers, drawn by the promise of English-language immersion, a rounded education, and an earlier track to a selective American university. 

In 2005, US high schools enrolled only 639 Chinese students. By 2016, that number had risen to more than 33,000. While elite boarding schools have long catered to wealthy foreigners, the biggest beneficiary of the Chinese boom has

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