Kennebunk High School hosted an international summer camp this week, introducing 13 Chinese students to American-style education and the bounties of summer in southern Maine.

The camp is part of the school district’s effort to attract international students who are willing to pay tuition to attend a public high school in the United States and, possibly, increase their chances of getting into a top U.S. college.

Principal Susan Cressey had planned to enroll Kennebunk High’s first group of international students this fall. Six students from the Tangshan Foreign Language School, which Cressey visited in March, were ready to enroll, she said.

But it takes several months to get a student visa through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Cressey said, so she now hopes to enroll the first international students in the fall of 2013.

“This is really an exploratory trip for the students here this week,” she said. “Hopefully, some of them will decide to return and spend a year with us.”

The 13 students, ages 13 to 17, came from Tangshan, an industrial city of about 7 million people in Hebei Province, near Beijing. They arrived in Maine on Monday and will leave Saturday, visiting several major American cities before returning to China.

While in Maine, they stayed with Kennebunk families and experienced various cultural activities, including a lobster bake, a tour of Casco Bay, a visit to the Marine Animal Rehabilitation Center at the University of New England in Biddeford and sea kayaking with the L.L. Bean Outdoor Discovery School in Freeport.

Each day started at Kennebunk High with lessons in American schooling, including English language composition and conversation, New England culture and traditions, and the American college application process.

Fourteen-year-old Ji Yuan said he learned that American classrooms encourage discussions with teachers and teamwork among students, while Chinese classrooms emphasize teachers’ lectures and memorizing facts from books.

Yuan, who speaks English well, learned some lesser-known American sayings. At one point his host, Kristin Clark, told him to sit in the front passenger seat of her vehicle. She told Yuan he was “riding shotgun.”

“At first I didn’t understand,” Yuan said, smiling. “Then she explained the meaning.”

Yuan said he is checking out several U.S. high schools and will seriously consider attending Kennebunk High. It’s one of several public high schools in Maine, along with Falmouth and Orono, that are developing tuition programs for international students.

“This was a good taste of what it’s like to study abroad,” said Liu Min, director of the international studies program at the Tangshan Foreign Language School. “They have to see it before they can decide.”

Foreign students would pay $34,000 per year to attend Kennebunk High, including $20,000 for tuition and $14,000 for room, board and translation services, Cressey said. That’s comparable to the cost of many private high schools in Maine.

Caroline Smith, who will be a sophomore in September, hosted two of the Chinese students.

“I really enjoyed having them at my house and seeing how different things are for them,” she said. “I would love for them to come to our school for a full year.”


Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

[email protected]


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