(Photo used by permission of Huang)
Former SCDS student Steven Wang (left), senior Kevin Huang (second from left), and Catharine Ryan (third from right) meet some family friends for Thanksgiving at Fat’s Restaurant in 2015.

In the following installments are the experiences of international students (seniors Kevin Huang and Fred Xu, juniors Howard Yuan and Crystal Jiang, and sophomore Jacqueline Chao) and the Ryan host family with UC Educations, a third-party organization that facilitates students coming from China to the United States. 

Around campus, you may know him as the helpful, tech-savvy tall guy who hangs around the Makerspace from dawn till dusk while sporting his new Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute sweats. You might also catch him at a sporting match as he takes pictures for the Octagon, even though he’s not getting credit for the class. Or you could find him climbing a tree, just for kicks.

Anywhere you find him, he’ll have a smile on his face.

But just a few years ago, senior Kevin Huang was not such a happy camper. Then, Huang said, he was facing a neglectful host family and an obstinate agency that he has had to push back against his entire high-school career.

When they were first enrolling in Country Day, Huang’s family was not aware that they were required to go through this agency in order to attend the school. In fact, Huang thought that he was communicating with Country Day’s own admissions office instead of a third-party agency. Huang finally found out that that he was speaking with UC Educations a month or two after he had enrolled.

Huang said that he fought with UC Educations frequently in his first two years as he figured out how the agency operated. For example, Huang learned that if the students do not pay their monthly fee, Country Day is required to ask them to leave. Such an event happened four years ago, according to Huang, when a former student was asked to leave for not paying her monthly fee to the agency.

But Huang’s first battle was over his living situation. Huang had planned on living with a second cousin in El Dorado Hills and told the school that he would not need a host family or service from UC Educations, which would have saved his family lots of money. But Country Day told Huang that he had to stick with the agency and have a host family.

Huang said that because of its limited resources UC Educations “just throws students to families.” It can take more than six months for a request for a change of host families to go through, and Huang estimates that only 50 percent of international students are actually happy with their current host families.

Huang said that the majority of host families are low-income and try to make money off of their monthly stipend of $1,000, causing international students to struggle with getting enough food and finding transportation to extracurricular activities.

Huang’s first host family was an elderly couple who did not want him to go to after-school activities or hang out with his friends.

The pair also did not have enough food. A month into his stay, they claimed that their monthly stipend had not been paid, and they refused to provide Huang with the food he had already paid for. So Huang looked up the closest grocery store, got on his bike and went shopping. He continued grocery shopping for himself for the majority of his stay, he said.

Huang finally moved out when he asked to live with a friend.

But on top of his problems with his first host family, Huang also encountered problems the first time he traveled home to China. When Huang returned to the U.S., he asked his host family to pick him up from San Francisco International Airport (SFO). Huang didn’t know that international students had to use the transport service provided by UC Educations at the time.

When the agency discovered the infraction, they charged the Huangs $800 because a van had already been reserved. And when his parents refused to pay, according to Huang, UC Educations threatened to expel him. His parents finally caved and paid the fee.

Because of these problems, Huang considered leaving at the end of his freshman year. But by the time he had decided to leave, it was too late to enroll anywhere else.

When Huang asked to leave his first host family, he said that UC Educations told him that they could not find him a new one, so Huang found one himself.

Senior Kevin Huang

Huang stayed with his friend, after that family had gone through the formal application process, for all of sophomore year. But in his junior year, Huang had to move out, so UC Educations sent him, along with former SCDS student Steven Wang, to live with the Ryans, a former Country Day family.

Throughout high school, Huang spoke with head of high school Brooke Wells and director of admissions Lonna Bloedau, who told him that these rules were just the way that the agency worked. Huang said that Bloedau tries to make international students feel like the school will take care of their issues, but, in actuality, her hands are tied, so there isn’t much action.

“(Country Day’s staff) knows (international students) are stuck,” Huang said.

Huang then approached a lawyer, who reviewed his contract and said that the students should be more aware of the school’s agreement with the agency.

In his sophomore year, Huang found that other international students were going through similar experiences. So Huang made group chats with the students and their parents to discuss their problems and what progress they had made with UC Educations.

He eventually asked the students if they wanted to go to the administration together to explain their current situations. But the other students were apprehensive because they didn’t want to get in trouble with Country Day, according to Huang, so the plan did not pan out. At the time, Huang did not know that Peter Xie, director of operations for UC Educations, had called a couple of the students’ parents to convince their children to give up.

Huang said that many reasons keep international students from speaking out about this treatment. For starters, international students don’t have close friends, family or an understanding of American laws. Furthermore, Chinese students, due to East Asian culture, tend to be quiet, respectful and disinclined to ask for help.

Huang said that Chinese people also don’t make friends as easily and quickly as Americans do. These students can become shy or unconfident in their English skills when people reach out, according to Huang. Because of this, local students believe that international students just don’t want to be friends and stop making an effort to be friendly. So international students rarely share their experiences with local Country Day students.

As for parent reactions, Huang said that there are two types of responses. There are some parents – like Huang’s, former SCDS student Tom Long’s and Daniel Kong’s (‘14) – who understand that they are paying for nothing and want to change the school’s policy.

The second and more common type of reaction is a typical Chinese parent’s reaction, according to Huang. This type of parent is not happy once they find out about these problems, but difficulties in communicating with Country Day, lack of understanding of American law and business, distance, and the fear of getting their children in trouble push them to keep quiet.

The local representatives aren’t of much help either, according to Huang. When Huang first started at Country Day, the representatives did not visit every month, as they had promised to do in their contract. It was only after international students started to complain that UC Educations upheld that promise, he said.

But even at that, Huang said that when local representatives visit, they just ask students to sign a piece of paper. Huang said that local representative Russell McCollough cannot remember his name, despite their four years of acquaintance.

Huang has several suggestions for how this agency could improve.

First of all, Huang said that students should have the choice of working with the agency and that those who have resources or family members in the U.S. should not be required to pay an extra fee.

Huang also said that the school should advertise the international student program to its own families. By staying with Country Day families, students will be integrated into the community more easily and make more friends, according to Huang. He said that by getting these issues publicized, perhaps more will finally understand what is going on with international students and offer their support.

By Sonja Hansen

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