This is the second article in a five-part update on UC Educations, the third-party organization that organizes their stays in the States. Click here for the questions and problems that last year’s international students raised, which were published in the final issue of the 2016-17 Octagon.
Since August, international students say that they have noticed some sizeable changes to their program, namely an increase in the number of visits made by local representatives from UC Educations, an adjustment to the transportation policy enforced by UC Educations, and modifications to the summer orientation course for international and scholarship students.
International student Kevin Huang, ’17, said that in previous years local representatives did not meet with the international students in person every month as they had agreed to in their contracts.
Now, however, junior Jacqueline Chao said that local coordinator Russell McCollough has visited her four times since June, much more frequently than last year. Additionally, during each visit, Chao said that he told her that UC Educations was going to be making some changes although he didn’t give her any details. (McCollough did not respond to texts requesting an interview).
Sophomore Ted Zhou and seniors Crystal Jiang and Howard Yuan also said that this year they have seen representatives more often than ever before.
Freshman Joanne Tsai said that at least once a month she has met with a UC representative or Lonna Bloedau. (Head of school Lee Thomsen said that Bloedau is now the director of the international student program, works part-time for Country Day and runs the program from home though she visits campus occasionally.)
Tsai said that head of high school Brooke Wells also often checks in with her.
Besides more frequent visitations from their local reps, students say that they have received different messages about the transportation policy. Last year, director of UC Educations Peter Xie said that the agency encourages students to fly out of Sacramento International Airport (SMF) instead of having their host families drive them to San Francisco International Airport (SFO) because flying is considered safer than driving. Instead of flying from SMF to SFO, a student could take a free van service hired by UC Educations to the airport, he said.
Thomsen said that his understanding is that this rule was also instated because federal laws require people with certain visas to fly out from an airport within a certain distance of their home.
For Chao, this policy is still being enforced. However, Chao is staying with junior Gabi Alvarado’s family this school year, and staying with the Alvarados entails lots of traveling.
Chao said that because Alvarado’s father is interested in photography, they watched a salmon run together in Tahoe in October. The following week, Chao and the Alvarados went to Berkeley to tour the University of California.
And on top of those excursions, Chao said that the family visited Los Angeles over Thanksgiving break to see the University of Southern California and the Claremont Colleges and that they plan to tour colleges on the East Coast.
But despite all of these trips, Chao was told by McCollough that the Alvarados are still not allowed to drive her to SFO when she returns home to China because of a liability issue. So while Chao can accompany her host family to Los Angeles or San Francisco on vacation, her host family would not be able to drop her off at the airport.
“I really wish that (UC Educations) could fix the transportation policy,” Chao said. “It’s really ridiculous that (international students) have to take a plane to SFO. If they don’t have a problem with (Alvarado’s mother Patricia Portillo) driving me to L.A., why should they have a problem with her driving me to the airport?”
Contradictory to Chao’s experience, sophomore Ted Zhou said that his host father was granted permission by UC Educations to pick him up from the San Francisco International Airport (SFO) in August.
“(The transportation policy is) something that UC Educations had been really stubborn about,” he said. “They think there are big risks. (Getting permission to have our host parents pick us up) is one of the main things (international students) have been struggling with.”
Tsai, on the other hand, said that international students may be dropped off or picked up at the San Francisco airport by their host parents as long as the parents are reimbursed.
“It’s only once or twice a year, but (the fee) is not super necessary,” she said.
Tsai said that she was unaware of a free shuttle organized by UC Educations but would much prefer that option if offered.
Jiang agreed with Tsai’s belief that students must pay their host family for pick-ups and drops-offs, but added that UC Educations requires students to sign a waiver in order to charter a bus or grant their host families permission to drive them.
In August, Jiang’s host family picked her up from SFO. Jiang said that she enjoyed this much more than waiting for hours to take a connecting flight to SMF.
Thomsen said that at a meeting on May 19 McCollough said that this policy involving the waivers was still being enforced.
Senior Howard Yuan said he received an email stating that a recently implemented rule allows students to Uber to and from SFO or for their host families to pick them up. When Yuan traveled to China at the beginning of the summer, he and Michelle Li, ’17, ordered an Uber to take them to SFO.
However, UC Educations does not allow students to Uber around the city, according to Yuan, especially since Uber’s own policy prohibits minors from using their service. Nevertheless, Yuan, who is 19 years old, said that he uses Uber every now and then when his host parents are unable to drive him to tests like the SAT or TOEFL.
But a change to the transportation policy was not the only difference that greeted international students at the beginning of the school year.
On Aug. 7 history teacher Damany Fisher worked for the first time in an orientation course with five incoming freshmen: three internationals and two Country Day scholars (beneficiaries of the scholarship that gives two freshmen a full ride through high school).
Thomsen said that both international students and scholarship students were included in the orientation because many of their needs overlap.
English teacher Jane Bauman had previously taught the course but handed it off to Fisher once he volunteered in the spring.
Fisher said that he volunteered because he was unable to teach a summer history course since all of the offered summer courses had already been approved by the time he was hired. While he consulted with Bauman, Fisher said that she was adamant that he use his own teaching approach.
Fisher said that his goal for the course was to introduce his students to critical thinking and reading and strategies for effective studying and note-taking, such as the Cornell method. To practice these skills, Fisher gave students passages to read and then paraphrase or summarize.
“I wanted to equip (the students) with some of the tools that I know and have enhanced my academic experience,” he said. “I approached it from a perspective of a history teacher, but I think that a lot of the skills that we developed were skills that could be applied to other subjects, not just history.”
The students’ culminating assignment was an essay on a narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass in response to the question “What role did literacy play in the life of Frederick Douglass?”
Fisher said that he chose to assign an essay because he wanted students to become comfortable with the types of assignments that they would receive in the fall.
Tsai said that she was already somewhat familiar with the writing skills that were discussed and didn’t enjoy writing the essay but thought that Fisher was very nice and welcoming.
Fisher said that equally important to the academic skills covered in the orientation was the opportunity for students to develop meaningful relationships before the beginning of the school year.
“We had a lot of opportunities to just get to know each other and forge a bond,” he said.
Because this is Fisher’s first year at SCDS, he invited senior international students to give an overview of school culture and traditions. Fisher said he stepped out of the room so that the students could speak more candidly and ask questions that they might not ask in the presence of a teacher.
“From what I heard, that was perhaps the most productive session that we had. (And) I wasn’t even present!” he said, laughing.
Tsai said that the students talked about school events and which classes are the hardest.
Fisher said that his main takeaway from the course was that having a formal academic orientation for new students is critical.
“I think all incoming students should experience some kind of transitional program during the summer so that when they arrive in the fall, they won’t feel out of sorts or totally lost,” he said.
In fact, Thomsen said that administrators are in the early stages of extending programs for international students as well as scholarship students, starting with Fisher’s orientation course. He said that having Fisher as an adviser dedicated to serving international and scholarship students is a good starting point.
However, creating more robust programs is financially dependent, according to Thomsen, and there are no definite plans yet.
Fisher said that he would be open to teaching both the orientation course and a history class next summer.