Thirty-three students from the Experimental High School in Beijing, China visited Minnetonka High School from Jan. 27 to Feb. 17.
The visit was arranged through the International Studies program, a unique independent study course offered to 10th through 12th-grade students at the high school.
The program, the brainchild of Minnetonka High School Principal David Adney, is similar to a pen pal program but instead of exchanging letters to get acquainted with international students, Minnetonka students connect with their pen pals electronically through e-mail, Facebook and Skype.
"The overall program has 140 Minnetonka students paired with 140 students overseas in eight countries," said Tim Laughinghouse, a social studies teacher and the director of the International Studies program.
The eight participating countries are China, Germany, India, the Netherlands, Russia, Serbia, Spain and South Africa.
In addition to communicating with their international partners, the students complete monthly assignments designed to introduce them to the foreign culture through identifying the differences in school systems, economies, popular culture, challenges facing their nations and personal family history.
Students then meet twice a month to discuss what they have learned.
"We started to realize that the world is changing and that it is getting more and more interconnected and more and more dependent on each other," said Laughinghouse.
"Our students now and in the future," continued Laughinghouse, "are going to need these kinds of skills and international perspective in order to participate in the global economy."
From attending high school classes to drive-thru dining and ice fishing, the visiting Chinese students were given a glimpse of the life of a Minnetonka High School student.
Three Chinese students, Ziging "Pauline" Peng, Siwei "David" Xu and Aohan "Henry" Yu, shared their insights on life in Minnetonka in a recent interview.
All three students had a positive impression of classes at the high school.
"In China classes are a little bit silent and it's just the teachers talking and the students just listen. But here everyone is free to talk, to communicate, to share their ideas, so it I think it is a better environment for us to grow, it is good to our development," said Yu.
Yu also commented on the Minnetonka teachers' use of humor in the classroom.
"Teachers here are always full of sense of humor," observed Yu. "Sometimes in China classes are very serious and teachers don't say jokes. But here they can say everything they want."
The three students talked about their impression of American food. Yu was taken aback by his first visit to a drive-thru restaurant.
"At first I thought what, what's this," said Yu. "That is something we don't have in China."
Peng shared Yu's enthusiasm for drive-thru dining. "I got a milk shake in one of the drive-thru, McDonald's, and they're pretty good," she said. Xu said that he enjoyed the food at the high school. "I think the food here is much more delicious," he said.
Another "first" for the Chinese students was an ice fishing outing to Lake Minnetonka.
"It is pretty fun to dig the holes," said Yu. But Yu wasn't so upbeat about the fishing. "I can't even get a shoe," he joked.
All three students agreed that the weather conditions on Lake Minnetonka were challenging. "It's freezing cold," said Peng.
Peng, Xu and Yu will be applying to colleges in the U.S.
In May, 10 Minnetonka students will be traveling to Beijing to attend the Experimental High School for 10 days.
Other small groups of Minnetonka students will be traveling to Germany, India and the Netherlands later this year. In addition, small groups of students already have completed trips to Russia and South Africa.
Laughinghouse emphasized that these trips are optional.
"The program stands alone without the trips," he said. "We feel that every students should be able to participate."