KAILUA-KONA — A boy growing up in Kona and a boy from Beijing might not immediately seem to have a lot in common, but when Dana Kern’s son met the boy the family would be hosting for the duration of a program that brought more than a dozen students from China to Kuleana Education Academy, the two “just hit it off right away,” said Kern, board president at Kuleana Education Academy.
“They play from the second they get in the house until bed — same with my daughter and the girls,” she said. “So it’s been pretty incredible to see no cultural divide at all. It’s like they’ve been friends forever.”
This is the first time Kuleana Education Academy has hosted an organized exchange trip by international students, who range from second to seventh grade and attend class with the school’s students.
Kern said the experience is also a valuable one for Kuleana’s own students, as it gives them exposure to another culture.
“We want our kids to be globally prepared,” she said. “And so introducing them to different cultures and learning how to interact with different cultures and respect different cultures is part of what we do and part of character education.”
More than a dozen students of Beile School from Beijing and Shenzhen came to Kuleana Education Academy for a 10-day stay, beginning Sunday, attending classes and staying with local families.
Kern said she hopes the visiting students are able to learn more about American culture and schooling, while students of Kuleana Education Academy get an opportunity to build relationships beyond their surroundings, gain a sense of respect for other cultures and, potentially, spark a future interest in travel.
“To be successful, they need skills that put them on the same tier as anyone else globally,” Kern said. “And part of that is learning about other cultures and respecting cultures. We live in such a mixed-culture country, and even if you work in this country, you may interact with people in other countries for jobs, so they need to be ready for that.”
Teacher Sally Sha likewise said she hopes her students seize the opportunity to learn about their American peers and pointed to the difference in setting and scenery between Kuleana Education Academy and their school in Beijing.
“They learn a lot about nature in this school,” she said, contrasting it with their school in Beijing.
“And Beijing is the capital of China, so it’s a very big city.”
Cici Cui, 12, of Beijing, said this is her third trip to the U.S., having previously traveled to New York as well as Boston and San Diego.
“I can talk with the kids here and learn some of their way of life and what do they learn and just make new friends,” she said.
And with her most recent immersion into American schooling underway, she said, it’s already been a great experience.
“It’s beautiful,” she said. “The children are very friendly and, in the family, I feel really comfortable.”
Rainbow Tian, another teacher on the trip, said the experience can have a big impact on students, particularly those who travel repeatedly.
“We can see the first time the kids come here and compare with the third time or the fourth time kids. It’s different,” she said, citing the students’ communication skills and heightened confidence. “And they join the new environment very quick.”
Students of Kuleana Education Academy also recognize the opportunities to learn from their overseas peers.
“I think maybe I can learn a little more how to interact with people who don’t speak our language that well,” said Umi Radcliffe-Suzuki, 8. “So maybe using hand signals or drawing pictures.”
Looking forward, Kern said she hopes the budding international relationship is one that can sustain into the future.
“I really hope that our kids can stay in touch once they leave. I think that would be a really good long-term relationship that they can build,” she said.