Colliding Cultures

Colliding Cultures

Photo Illustration by Keila McCabe and Jeanine Kim

6 Upper school families are hosting foreign exchange students participating in the WLSA East to West Exchange Program.

As Violet Barron ’22 sat down at what she believed to be just another typical family dinner, she was overwhelmed with excitement when her mother announced that her family would be welcoming a new member to their family for two weeks. The Barron family would be one of six families participating in the World Leading Schools Association (WLSA) East to West Exchange program.

“I am excited to learn a bit more about life in China and her day to day life, and I’m sure she’s excited to learn about mine,” Barron said. “I think it will be fun to say I have a friend from China. I want to introduce her to some of the foods I like, the music I like and things I like to do as well as hear about her interests.”

The school is one of the founding members of WLSA and a participant of the East to West Exchange program, where Chinese students who are a part of WLSA travel to the United States and other countries, Director of Kutler Center and Summer Programs Jim Patterson said. These are short-term exchanges and students are able to live with host families, attend classes at the school of their host siblings and engage in a new cultural environment.
Ryan Tsai ’21, who also volunteered to host an exchange student from Shanghai, said he was inspired to participate in the program because of his past experience as a foreign exchange student.

“I was kind of both excited and nervous because someone I don’t know is coming to stay with my family,” Tsai said. “But last summer, I went to Japan for an exchange program, so I’m just returning the favor.”

After an introduction between the WLSA exchange students and their host families Jan. 25, the students were given the weekend to acclimate to their new surroundings. They then attended an orientation run with Patterson, toured the school campus and shadowed their host student before going back home with them. 

Foreign exchange students said that they are excited to experience a new culture and make new friends.

Exchange student Catherine Zhu, who is from Shanghai and staying with Chronicle Assistant A&E Editor Celine Park for the following two weeks, said she is enthusiastic to immerse herself in a new culture.

“Everything is really exciting for me and new because [I’m] in a new environment, meeting new people [and eating] different foods,” Zhu said. “Everything is really different, and I am very excited. I want to bring my own culture and introduce it to [the] local people and spend a good time with [everyone].”

Zhu has been studying English for close to eight years at her school and said she is excited to further practice her English while staying in the United States. The competitive program was introduced at Zhu’s school and required interested students to take an exam to be part of it.

Exchange students will spend the rest of their time attending various electives chosen by the scheduling committee, which consists of Brandon Liang ’21, Taylor Dees ’21, Joy Ho ’22 and Park during the day, before returning to their host families and visiting different Los Angeles cultural destinations until they depart Feb. 8.

Patterson said that, through his experience viewing the program in past years, he has noticed that both the host and exchange students are able to learn from one another.

“From what I’ve seen in the past, both the visiting students from China and the host students from Harvard-Westlake seem to enjoy the experience of getting to know a peer from a different culture who, in many ways, has the same aspirations as the students here,” Patterson said. “These are all university-bound students that have similar aspirations as [those of] Harvard-Westlake students in terms of what they want to do once they grow up.”

Upper school students share their experiences as foreign exchange students in China. 
Senior Prefect Clay Skaggs ’20 participated in the program as an exchange student during his sophomore year in Shanghai and completed an internship during his stay, he said.

“I stayed with a family of the student of a WLSA-associated school and interned at a private equity firm for two weeks,” Skaggs said. “We did cultural activities with the local high schoolers. [I remember] I had to take the metro every day to the internship, and it was an hour-and-half ride each direction.”

Jed Kronenberg ’17 has had many experiences with both host students and being one himself. In highschool he went to Shanghai and his family has hosted multiple Chinese exchange students over the years.

“The opportunity to travel to Shanghai and then host a Chinese exchange student was incredible,” Kronenberg said. “I really enjoyed immersing myself in Chinese culture. Today, I have friends from around the world that I never would have met without the exchange program.”

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