Global GFS: Welcoming students from around the world

This school year, GFS welcomed two students from China to the Upper School. They join the growing number of international students choosing to study at American boarding and day schools.

Currently, five international students attend GFS: Rudy Rong ’13, Jeung Lee ’14, David Kim ’15, Anita Zhang ’16 and Kathy Zhu ’16. Rudy, Anita and Kathy are from China, while David and Jeung are natives of Korea.

Lynne Tucker, Director of Diversity Recruitment, said, “What’s happened at colleges and universities, especially within the last decade or so, is that there’s been a large influx of international students. It’s started to come down to boarding schools, and now day schools. Within the last five years at GFS there have been several international students. But probably within the last three years we’ve seen more students from Korea and, as of this year, China. It’s something that’s just kind of evolved.”

Tucker added, “International students and their families are also interested in the cultural experience that comes with attending a school in the United States, so the possibility of attending one of the top colleges and universities in the U.S. is not their only reason for coming, but [it is] an important reason they are interested in independent schools.”

Tucker took a ten-day trip to China and Korea last April at the invitation of International Education Opportunities (IEO), a company that specializes in providing driven students from other countries with the chance to attend schools in the Philadelphia area. Tucker attended school fairs and spoke with educational consultants in order to connect with families interested in taking the “big step” in sending their child to the United States for high school.

The students’ experiences with the English language vary, so they all take English as a Second Language (ESL), taught by Joy Kushner, as their foreign-language major. Margie Spaeth, who has Anita and Kathy as advisees, said that Kushner “is doing a lot of liaison work with other teachers too, so that if something comes up and they need extra support in something, then people know to contact Joy. So it works very well.”

Kushner agreed that the system in place at GFS for international students “is set up really well for the small numbers of students that we have. I can work with them one-on-one or sometimes two-on-one, and that’s worked out well because it’s so individualized.”

Anita went to a boarding school in Connecticut for middle school, so she has an excellent grasp of English. IEO put her family in contact with GFS for high school. When asked to compare her experiences at her middle school and at GFS, Anita said that “it’s hard to compare boarding and day schools” because they are so different.

Kushner pointed out that many boarding schools are becoming saturated with foreign students. U.S. boarding schools may appeal to foreign families because of their reputations for sending their students to the country’s most prestigious universities and institutions. However, the experience gained from studying in a foreign country could be diminished for some students, since foreign students at boarding schools are often surrounded by others who speak the same language and come from the same culture.

Anita said that in a school with so few international students, it is easy for those students to bond with each other because they already have something in common. But she admitted that, while she has many friends now, at the beginning of the school year it was difficult to make friends because of the language barrier.

Anita said that GFS has a good system in the way that it welcomes and accommodates international students.

Tucker agreed, though she hopes to see the program expand in the future. “We hope to obviously bring more students in, and we really want a representative body… I think it would be great to have a critical mass of international students… I think that that will add a lot, hopefully not just in terms of the lives of students but faculty as well. It’s something that we can expand so that maybe faculty can have more opportunities for exchange programs. The possibilities of exchange and getting to know students of different cultures, I think they will really enrich this community in a lot of ways. There are a lot of opportunities here.”

Undoubtedly if GFS wishes to expand its international program, there must be some curricular changes as well. Kushner suggested the addition of “an actual ESL class.” But overall, Kushner said that the international students “want to do everything that everyone else is doing. They don’t want to have special treatment… The GFS teachers want to treat them like every other student.”

Kushner said the bottom line is keeping “really high [academic] standards” at GFS. Said Tucker, “we want to ensure that international students have a positive and successful experience at GFS.”