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School One goes to China!

By Julia Volynsky

Last November I had the remarkable opportunity to travel to China to represent School One to interested students and families. The trip was organized by the Cambridge Institute for International Education, which is responsible for all of our recruiting efforts in China. The agency does a phenomenal job promoting School One, but going there myself would enable me to not only experience the culture and see where our students come from, but meet prospective families in person. While I have traveled to many far-off places, China has always seemed like a magical and unreachable place. So when I found out I was going, I was thrilled!

I arrived in Beijing after a 14-hour flight. At the airport I had my first taste of Chinese hospitality, which I was not prepared for, but experienced over and over throughout my trip. The young lady who met me, Aki, immediately took my bags, brought me a coffee and whisked me away to my hotel. Later she took me to a Chinese Pizza Restaurant owned by an American. That night I met the rest of my group, who were school admissions directors and international student coordinators from all over the U.S.

We spent five days in Beijing sightseeing and meeting with students at high school fairs. While we were there it snowed for the first time in 61 years. We visited the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven and finally, best of all, the Great Wall, which I never imagined I would be standing on one day. We arrived very early in the morning, just as the sun was coming up over the mountains, and spent a few hours walking a long stretch of the wall. Despite the ice and snow that had fallen just a few days before, we could not have asked for a better day to be there.

After Beijing we flew to Fuzhou, Xiamen and finally Shenzhen. We spent the majority of our time interviewing potential students, presenting our schools at fairs and traveling from city to city. All three cities are in the south of China, where we had sunny days and tropical weather. The majority of the students going to American schools, including School One, come from this region in China. These cities have seen a dramatic increase in prosperity recently. Shenzhen, in particular, has grown almost overnight into a major economic zone due to foreign investments and its location next to Hong Kong.

The high school fairs in these cities were very well attended by students and parents who hope to send their kids to schools in America. Through my interviews it quickly became apparent why so many students want to experience American schools. Chinese teenagers have little free time for extra-curricular activities or hobbies: many answered my standard interview question, “What do you do in your free time?” with “I don’t have free time.”

 Most Chinese students spend their evenings and weekends either studying for the “gaokao,” China’s college entrance exam, or preparing for admission into American high schools by studying English, taking extra classes and practicing for the TOEFL and SSAT tests. Attending school in America means being free to take more classes they enjoy, to spend time with friends and to explore non-academic interests.

During my two weeks in China it was important to represent School One accurately, because we are competing with boarding, day, college prep and parochial schools all over the country. I interviewed close to 30 students, and also met their families. Two have since applied. It was invaluable to get to know them personally and to be able to make an admissions decision based on a face-to-face interaction.

I think the Chinese students who apply to School One will do so because they genuinely want to come to a school that is creative, warm, welcoming and artsy. We have a very clear niche in China. After all, our name translates to “Number 1 School.” Who wouldn't want to go to the number one school?