For Chinese New Year, Tower Hill’s international students taught their classmates a traditional Mandarin saying, gong xi fa cai, wishing prosperity and happiness. Tenth grader Allen Wu asked the entire Upper School to repeat the phrase in unison at an assembly about the holiday, organized by the newly formed Chinese Culture Club.
“There is going to be a test tomorrow morning,” he joked.
Wu is one of four international students at Tower Hill, the first in more than a decade, who enrolled this year to complete high school in the United States. They arrived from China through Renascentia Hall International
, an international student program that facilitates exchange between schools and families.
“The reason I came to America is because I really love the lifestyle,” said 11th grader Judy Chen. “I also wanted to play sports.”
Field hockey, French, world history and other offerings are not always readily available at Chinese schools, the students said, emphasizing that varying educational approaches are not necessarily good or bad—just different. Schools like Tower Hill can provide more flexibility for students in exploring their manifold interests.
“We’re really science-oriented in China,” Wu said. “I wanted to learn about history and the economy—so this gives the option to choose more courses.”
The students also find the smaller school size appealing, where the entire Upper School is significantly smaller than the 500-800 students per grade back home. Students get to know peers in other grades, they said, and have closer interaction with faculty.
Frank Yu, a 10th grader who previously attended boarding school in China, sees the exchange as a way to bridge barriers between countries.
“The reason why I came to the U.S. is because China and the U.S. are in a big rivalry—but they also have a lot of cooperation nowadays,” Yu said. “So my parents and I thought if I observed American culture and a different system, it might be helpful.”
The students created the Chinese Culture Club at Tower Hill to increase awareness of their country’s culture, sharing traditions from food to art to calligraphy. In the fall they gave lessons on how to make dumplings and served hundreds to classmates as a snack. Next week they will decorate hallways for the Chinese New Year celebration, which runs through Feb. 24.
The assembly they led included explanations of the Chinese zodiac, decorations, customs, games and dances—turning the tables from them learning American culture to instead sharing their own. The students have all experienced some degree of culture shock, they said, not always catching American references—but eager to learn. They said their host families have been very helpful in practicing English, and they have met Chinese students attending other schools through Renascentia Hall outings.
“Everybody, especially the teachers, has been very welcoming,” Wu said.
to learn more about Tower Hill’s International Student Program.