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East meets West when Chinese students come to Serra

| Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014, 10:08 a.m.
Cindy Shegan Keeley | Daily News
Serra Catholic High School administrative director Lorraine Lyons greeted Chinese exchange students in the school's Chinese language classroom.
Cindy Shegan Keeley | Daily News
Zhe Gong, Jiarui Hu and Kai Huang and their fellow Chinese travelers got registration forms and other paperwork during their first visit to Serra.
Cindy Shegan Keeley | Daily News
Candice Abu, center, is one of a half-dozen local host family members who toured Serra Catholic High Scool last week with incoming Chinese exchange students. Jianan Meng, left, will stay with Abu's family until June. Zhe Gong, right, is staying with a family from North Versailles Township.

Learning the ropes at a new school is something most students do in August.

But six foreign exchange students from China who attend Serra Catholic High School in McKeesport started going through the process just last week.

No doubt the four boys and two girls who arrived through the Cambridge Institute of International Educations and its sister company Green Planet Homestay program and started classes on Tuesday will go through the normal routines of trying to remember where their next class is and where to catch their school bus — topics that were discussed at an introductory tour of the school last week — but they also will be getting acclimated to a whole new corner of the world.

“The sky is more clear. The air is fresh,” said Elian Liu, 15, of her new surroundings. Liu, who's adopted the name Jessica for her stay in the states, hails from the Chengdu province in southwest China, where she said air quality leaves much to be desired.

Liu and the other new arrivals all speak some English. They're looking to improve their language skills by the time they leave for home in June. They're looking forward to experiencing American life and culture, as well.

“I want to watch a football game and go to Pittsburgh for shopping,” said Jianan Meng, 17, who still hadn't settled on an English name.

Xinying Yang, 14, said this is her second time in the United States but the first time was just for a brief visit.

“I want to know more about American life and food,” said Yang, who is going by the name Stella while she is here. “I'm very excited and nervous.”

All six students will have support from local families outside of school.

Yang, for instance, is staying with a family in McKeesport.

Tim Brown said hosting Yang will be mutually beneficial for her and his daughter, Tyies Brown, 13, a student in the McKeesport Area School District.

“It will be a good experience to have a different culture around the house,” Brown said.

Brown said he learned of the hosting opportunity through his involvement with the LaRosa Boys & Girls Club.

Others hosting the students include the families of Cindy West and her daughter Heather Bach of North Versailles Township. The women live next to each other and between them will host three students, with Bach opening her home to two.

“It's been very cool for my own kids,” said Bach, whose four children attend Praise Christian Academy in North Versailles.

Lorraine Lyons, administrative director for Serra, told the students she was glad to have them aboard.

“I've talked to you on Skype. I finally get to see you in person,” Lyons said. “I'm happy you all got here safely.”

In addition to the Skype interviews, the exchange students went through a screening process with the Cambridge Institute, which has a network that includes more than 200 schools in the United States, Korea and China.

Since 2010, the Cambridge Institute has generated more than $110 million in revenue for American private high schools, colleges and universities, according to its website.

Lyons said Serra Catholic will receive tuition for the visiting students through Cambridge.

This is the first year the school has partnered with the institute, but Serra has hosted a number of exchange students from Spain, Vietnam and Thailand.

Lyons said the new arrivals will be a major benefit to the school's Chinese language program.

She said the Cambridge students have been placed in difficult classes based on their transcripts.

Eric Slagle is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at 412-664-9161 ext. 1966, or