By: Anabelle Keimach (Correspondent)
Each fall ten Chinese exchange students come to study at Sharon High School, but this year they have been denied visas, and their opportunity to come study in the United States is in jeopardy.
When the exchange program started in 2008 it was a full semester program. Since then the exchange program has been modified to a shorter cultural exchange which is now between six and eight weeks. Dr. Cathy Collins, director of the exchange program has been involved in the program for six years
“It’s been just life transforming for our students to learn more about Chinese culture first hand from students who live there,” said Collins. Collins says that there is something special learning directly from students in another country and being able to travel and attend school there. “It’s given our students an amazing opportunity to really truly understand Chinese life and Chinese culture from the eyes of students who live there. There is just nothing better than that,” said Collins.
Dr. Collins says that six years ago the exchange was modified so that the Chinese students now come to Sharon for six to eight weeks only. “When the modification of the program first happened, James Alexander from the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, which is part of the U.S. state department, advised the directors of the program to relinquish what they call a SEVIS certification and have the students come on B1/B2 visas. But this year the embassy officials told the students and the group that they needed a different type of visa,” explained Collins. Unfortunately, the process to get the other kind of visa will take nine to twelve months.
Dr. Collins says that she is writing letters, contacting government officials, contacting lawyers who specialize in immigration/visa issues, and gathering as much knowledge and guidance as she can to best help the students and the teacher in China. “I’m pretty optimistic that we will be able to work this out, but in the short term it means that this years group of selected students in China might not have the opportunity to visit the U.S.,” said Collins.
Collins says that they have had problems obtaining visas before, but this is the most trouble they have ever received. “I’m unsure whether this is due to a particularly difficult group of government officials, or is politically motivated.” But she does not believe that this will affect the exchange program in the long run. “We are still collecting applications for both hosting, and going to China in the spring,” said Collins.
Participants of the Chinese exchange program last spring are discouraged by the outcome of this situation since they were planning on hosting this fall, or had previously experienced the value and joy of having a Chinese exchange student live with them.
“I think it’s really crazy and seems really surreal because I feel like this shouldn’t be happening in our world today with our relations with other nations and how progressive we are as a nation,” said junior, Juliana Dudziak.
Junior Sydney Losikoff-Carey is disappointed because she was expecting to host the girl who was her own host sister in China.“Personally I feel pretty hurt about it because I was really excited to show my student around like she showed me, and I feel like it’s a debt that’s never going to be repaid…I wanted to show her my everyday life and let her meet people that are part of my family and stuff that she showed me,” said Losikoff-Carey.
Ms. Collins says that she will remain hopeful and positive that everything will work out. “It is just a shame that our group of students who want to experience American culture and contribute to our school climate in a positive way are being denied,” she said.