International School of the Peninsula (ISTP), Palo Alto, California
International School of the Peninsula (ISTP), Palo Alto, California/ Ecole internationale de la Péninsule | 半島國際學校
Chris Livaccari, Upper Elementary Principal and Chinese Program Director
The ISTP is an independent school in the heart of Silicon Valley, with approximately 600 students in nursery school through Grade 8. ISTP offers rigorous, bilingual programs in Mandarin Chinese and French. The French program is celebrating its 35th anniversary in 2015, and the Chinese program will celebrate its 25th year in 2016.
Study Abroad Program at ISTP
Study abroad is a key component of the academic program and reflects a deep commitment to ensuring that students are learning experientially as well as in the classroom. Both the Chinese and French programs offer 2–3 week study abroad opportunities for students starting in Grade 4. The Chinese program has ongoing partnerships with schools in Taiwan, Shanghai, Hangzhou, and Chengdu (Sichuan province), and students in the Chinese program travel to Hangzhou (Grade 4), Taiwan (Grade 5), and Chengdu (Sichuan Province, middle school). The goal is that students will travel to both mainland China (Grade 4) and Taiwan (Grade 5) before the end of elementary school. Since the academic program includes the study of traditional characters through 3rd grade, followed by the transition to simplified characters in 4th and 5th, students are well prepared for both experiences and for being able to communicate effectively with the broader global Chinese community.
A new partnership with East China Normal University (ECNU) in Shanghai allows graduate students in their Teaching Chinese to Speakers of Other Languages (TCSOL) program in China to come to California and work as teaching assistants in classes in the program. Exchanges for the future are being explored with ECNU’s affiliated primary and middle schools.
Students keep daily journals in Chinese while traveling. They also participate in creating video documentaries, including interviews, about their experience. Elementary school students work closely with teachers to produce these, and middle school students produce them independently.
Teachers in the program usually lead the trips, so that strong connections can be made back to the curriculum and the students value the opportunity as an extension of their formal studies.
As an independent school, all exchange programs are subsidized by the school and paid for by the parents.
Benefits of Participation
The most significant benefits to students are not just in language development or cultural knowledge but almost more importantly, in personal growth and maturity. For most students, this is the most extended period of time that they have been away from their families. Some adapt almost immediately, while for others, it is an extremely challenging experience that comes with a lot of anxiety. At the end of the trip, almost without exception, students have become more independent, mature, and resilient. Seeing the ways that these overseas experiences have motivated the students and given them confidence in themselves has made program staff realize that the larger social-emotional benefits of these experiences are absolutely critical. If students are to develop a global skill set, they must possess the skills necessary to be self-directed, independent learners, with the flexibility of mind to adapt to new and changing situations. This is why these overseas experiences contribute so much to fulfilling the school’s broader mission and vision. Indeed, without them, we would not be able to respectfully call ourselves an “international” school.
One of the challenges for any exchange program is managing expectations on all sides. We need to be realistic about what students can accomplish, particularly students in Grade 4, on what for many is their first international trip. The Chinese partners almost always want the exchanges (both ways) to be much larger than a school of our size can accommodate.
Programs Running a Study Abroad Program Will Want to Know
It is important to be realistic about what students can accomplish and to work with the Chinese partners to develop and adjust expectations. It is important to not overburden students with tasks but rather allow them to make the most of each and every new experience or personal interaction.