Saturday, February 15, 2014

Students from Taiwan visit Windham Christian Academy - By Elizabeth Richards

The Bennett family has once again opened up their home to visitors from Nini Bennett’s native Taiwan for an extended stay. On January 22nd, four students from the Bennett’s school in Taiwan arrived for a three week visit. This time, the focus is on education.
The Bennett’s company, Up in Maine, LLC, has a mission “To raise an awareness of Maine and what it has to offer in terms of unique experiences, way of life and educational opportunities.” Last summer, a large group of students and their parents visited to experience Maine in the summer and participate in a variety of camp programs. This time around, the students are here alone, and the goal for the visit is different. “This goal is to get them into the classroom,” said Nathaniel Bennett. 

The Bennetts also have two students who are staying with them for a year long experience, one attending Chevrus High School and the other attending Windham Christian Academy. The group of students visiting for three weeks, who are ages 10-14, are also attending Windham Christian Academy.

Nini said that one goal is to allow the students to compare the educational system in America to that which they experience in Taiwan. There, for instance, students attend school until 4:30 p.m, and were amazed to find that students here get out for the day at 2:30 p.m. Also, in their Taiwanese school, they have three or four quizzes or tests per day, which is far more often than students experience here. 

Often, when they get out of school at 4:30 p.m, the students in Taiwan have another school to attend. They also have approximately two hours of homework per night, and competition among students is fierce.

Here, the students feel that the kids care about each other. They are surprised by how welcoming and kind the American students are to them. In Taiwan, the focus is on studying, and the next test, so there isn’t time for as much social interaction. 

 Another difference is that the teachers will listen, and enjoy who they are as individuals, said Nini. This tends to build confidence in the students after they visit, she said. 

“The teachers pay attention to the different learning styles here. The tradition in Taiwan is to teach it one way,” said Nathaniel. He added that the students also get to speak out more in classes here. “In Taiwan, it’s very difficult to develop because they have no idea. They’re taught to listen. They don’t ask a lot of questions. Usually when you see Asian kids come here they are quiet. Their mind is active, they just don’t know how to express it,” he said.

Nathaniel said the visit has been amazing. “The students in the class just accepted them right in,” he said. A group of girls at WCA took one of the very quiet visiting girls under their wings. “She’s doing great. I’ve never seen her smile so much, I’ve never seen her so happy in the classroom,” he said. “The values they teach here promote that, and the teachers promote that, and they are small classes so they can do that,” said Nathaniel. 

Nini said that miscommunications can happen when people don’t understand the background and the culture of another place. When American kids hear the stories, hear the differences in language patterns and culture, they can better understand the Taiwanese children. As a way to give back to the school, Nini is teaching Chinese in the classroom at WCA. The Taiwanese help out, and the WCA students are attentive and interested, taking notes and talking about bringing the information home to their parents. 

Because it’s the Chinese New Year, the students are on break from their school in Taiwan, which allowed them the opportunity to travel to Maine. In addition to the educational component of the exchange, the Bennetts are exposing the students to a variety of activities they have never tried before, such as sledding, snow tubing and skiing. The Facebook page for Up in Maine, LLC chronicles the visit with photographs of students trying new things.

The Bennetts hope that having kids from another culture visit is also a positive experience for the Windham community. “We want to raise awareness for Maine, and Windham. We want to bring people here and show them what’s good about Maine,” said Nathaniel. 

This summer, the Bennetts will continue their mission by hosting even more families and children in the community. Nathaniel said they hope that the people will welcome them into the community to help make their experience a positive one.

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