Yinghua Academy, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Yinghua Academy, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Luyi Lien, Academic Director
Yinghua Academy is the only full immersion Mandarin Chinese K–8 school in Minneapolis. It opened in 2006, as the first public charter Chinese immersion school in the United States and the first Chinese immersion school in the Midwest.
Study Abroad Program at Yinghua Academy
Yinghua Academy offers study abroad opportunities to students in Grades 6–8. After studying in the immersion program for six to seven years, these students are equipped with the appropriate level of language ability and are mature enough to recognize and appreciate cultural similarities and differences. Study abroad provides students with a lived experience—an opportunity to become immersed in an even broader environment of Chinese language and culture, and be able to use their learned language. In addition, real-world experiences in China provide the best material for immersion students to become even more curious and excited about learning. The trip is not only a good tool to measure immersion students’ proficiency, but it can also be a wonderful way to motivate them to continue on a journey of knowledge and discovery about the world as a whole. It also serves as a great way for students to see ways that they can use their Chinese in the future, as a foundation for advancing their careers. The trip lasts 14 days. It takes place during spring break or during the first two weeks of summer break. The plan is to have two different routes and to rotate from year to year, so that students can go to China two consecutive years and visit different parts of the country. The northern route has visits to Beijing and Xi’an, and the highlight is visiting and studying in classes of the sister school in Inner Mongolia. The southern route visits Shanghai, Suzhou, Hangzhou, and the sister school. During the sister school visits, students have the opportunity to stay with the host families or in the hotel with the China trip group lead teachers or administrators.
Before the travel dates, students are required to attend China trip club meetings every Monday at noon for orientation. Monthly teacher, chaperone, and parent meetings are also held, to communicate the purpose of the trip and the logistical details. If the trip takes place during spring break, participating students will miss one week of school work and are responsible for catching up on their learning and homework within two weeks of their return. During the trip, students are required to participate in all of the activities and contribute their writing and reflections on the China trip blog to share with other China trip families. Students also complete journals and activity booklets during the trip. After the trip, they are asked to reflect on their travel experience and promote the next year’s China trip. They are required to submit materials for various PowerPoint presentations to share their experiences with students, parents, and the school community during the following school year.
Criteria for Student Participation
School staff believe that the 6th and 7th grade students are the best candidates to go, because they still have at least one more year at the school after they return to study and improve their language. The criteria for participating are that students need to demonstrate a strong motivation to use their Chinese during the entire trip and attend all the activities before, during, and after the trip. Students complete the application form with both child and parent signatures. The application form describes the purpose of the trip. The administrators review the application forms and inform students whether or not they will participate in the trip.
Because the purpose of the China trip is to provide an immersion educational experience, teachers and chaperones are selected who have sufficient Chinese language proficiency to use Chinese only during the entire trip. At Yinghua, the Academic Director consults with the Executive Director, and together they design the travel plans. The administrators make the plan and communicate with Chinese counterparts for necessary details. Parents and teachers’ suggestions are welcome.
The cost of the China trip depends on the number of participants. Each student’s parents are the main sponsors for the travel costs. The first two years of the program, the school’s flagship program funded a partial travel experience for every middle school student and the teacher chaperones. The 3rd year, the school applied for a HanBan grant and received an award, so that the participating students were responsible only for their transportation and visa application fees. The rest of the expenses in China were paid by Hanban. The school plans to continue to apply for the Hanban grant, which reduces travel costs and allows the school to attract more students to go to China.
Benefits of Participation
- challenge themselves to use Chinese while they travel, which instills confidence and stimulates their desire to learn more. Knowing that they have the ability to communicate with almost half of the world’s population is a strong motivating factor.
- develop and solidify their friendships with their email pen pals in China.
- first wonder about the culture and then gain valuable cultural insights and subsequent cultural understanding.
- become more confident in their competence with the language and their cultural abilities and more clearly know what they want to do in the U.S. after the trip.
- broaden their worldview and think and feel with more empathy.
- Make sure the trip is safe and meets everyone’s expectations. Preparation in advance of the trip and remaining aware during all kinds of situations during the trip are the ways to address this challenge.
- The trip is expensive. The school would like more students to go on the trip and would like to support them as much as possible, but it takes time to educate students and parents and to save the necessary funds. One possible way to address the challenge is to request more grants to fund the trip; another way is to establish a savings account for each student when they start studying in our school. Parents, grandparents, and other family members can contribute to the funds, and students can even ask for contributions as their birthday gift. Additionally, fundraising activities could be organized.
Programs Running a Study Abroad Program Will Want to Know
- The biggest message to programs that are considering organizing a study abroad program is to have very clear objectives.
- Each activity should serve the purpose and goals of the program.
- Communicate your goals to students and parents, so that everyone understands the meaning and purpose of the trip.
- Start early to prepare students and families.