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International Exchange Students Enrich High School Culture

Chinese students Zheng “Kelly” Haohua and Guo “James” Kaixiang chatted with Band Director Jane Detweiler about playing instruments in the Wyoming High School band. Brazilian student Gabriel Lopez Alves quickly alternated his arms in a fast up-and-down motion using battle ropes in gym class, and Thai student Noparrat (Mint) Likhithattaslip and German student Veronika Rieks settled into their seats in English class.

It was a typical day at Wyoming High School. But this school year, the already diverse student body has gotten even more so thanks to new agreements with international student-exchange agencies. Thirteen students from 10 countries recently arrived to attend Wyoming High School for up to two years.

Five students from Guangzhou, China, are attending through the Weiming Education Group. Eight others come from Thailand, Vietnam, Japan, Mexico, Brazil, Spain, Germany and Turkey, coordinated through Educatius International and other study abroad companies.

Several plan to attend college courses next school year through the Wyoming Middle College, a dual-enrollment program with Grand Rapids Community College.

“I want to learn English really well,” said Chinese student Xie “Niko” Wei, from China, who is interested in economics and business. “I hope I can graduate this year. I want to enjoy every second in America. I want to learn all about the culture of Americans and how this country works. As we know, America is the strongest country in the world. There are a lot of different things we can learn.”

Spanish student Lucia Oliveros-Rodrigues said she’s come to develop her language skills and learn about America.

“I came here because I wanted to change my life and improve my English,” she said. “I want to learn six different languages.”

Brazilian student Gabriel Lopez Alves experience physical education in America
Brazilian student Gabriel Lopez Alves experience physical education in America

Why Wyoming is a Perfect Fit

Weiming Education Group coordinators approached Wyoming administrators about hosting Chinese students because of Wyoming High School’s diverse student body and strong English Language Learner support system, said Superintendent Tom Reeder. The student body already represents 20 different birth countries with a large EL population. Flags from every country line a hallway by the main office.

Standing out because of one’s nationality just doesn’t happen at Wyoming, said Superintendent Tom Reeder.

“We thought, ‘Why not bring even more diversity?'” Reeder said. It is the first time in several years that Wyoming has enrolled international exchange students.

Weiming has partnerships with several Michigan high schools including East Kentwood, Rockford, Traverse City, Byron High School in Byron Area Schools, Oxford High School in Oxford Community Schools, and Brother Rice High School in Bloomfield Hills Schools.

“The exchange students are fitting in real well,” said Dean of Students Jesus Hernandez, who is helping coordinate the program. “They will need support in the building, and the staff stepped up and want to help.”

The district receives $10,000 per student from Weiming Education Group and $4,000 per Educatius student, in addition to state per-pupil aid, Reeder said.

Nopparet “Mint” Likhithattaslip, from Thailand, exchanges phone numbers with Veronika Rieks, from Germany
Nopparet “Mint” Likhithattaslip, from Thailand, exchanges phone numbers with Veronika Rieks, from Germany

All in the Family

The students are living with local host families, who are introducing them to culture through food, travel and customs. Senior Vanessa Cage’s family is hosting Chinese student Zhu “Mike” Zicheng. Since his arrival, they’ve gone to a water park, shopping and on other excursions. Other students have visited the lakeshore, taken bike rides and gone camping with host families.

“It’s really fun. Mike’s really funny,” Vanessa said. “He taught us a lot of Chinese words. I know my name in Chinese.”

As a student, Vanessa sees the international program as a positive.

“I think it’s better for the whole school,” she said. “I’ve gone to four different schools and they weren’t diverse. That’s why I love this school. Everybody’s nice here. I haven’t met anyone who puts people out for what they are.”

Hernandez and Reeder said they are hopeful the program will expand over the next few years.

“It’s that whole piece of understanding each other, understanding people from different parts of the world who our kids can gain knowledge from. I think it’s part of the Wyoming dream to see this expand. Absolutely,” Hernandez said.


Weiming Education Group


SNN story on Rockford Exchange Students

SNN stories on Weiming

Chinese Students in Kentwood and Rockford: So Far, So Good

Thirteen students representing 10 countries recently arrived in Grand Rapids to attend Wyoming High School
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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is managing editor and reporter, covering Kentwood, Lowell and Wyoming. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013, and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio


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