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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, June 20, 2002

Foreign youths mix at BYUH in summer

By Beverly Creamer
Advertiser Education Writer

Brigham Young University-Hawai'i is attempting to cement and expand its reputation in the Pacific and Asia with a program for high-school students that mixes an immersion English language experience with a heavy dose of cultural and tourist activities.

And it's working. Students cry at the thought of leaving at the end of their three-week summer sessions, said Paul H. Jean, coordinator of meetings and conferences in BYUH's Division of Continuing Education.

Targeting 14- to 17-year-old students from China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong, the program is making inroads into areas where BYUH wants to extend its influence and expand its student mix.

This year 150 students are participating, up from 70 in 1999, the first year. The program's annual growth was interrupted by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and concerns, especially among families in China, about sending children to the United States.

"This year the numbers from China dropped way down," said Jean. "They only have one child (part of government policy to curb population growth) and don't want to lose that son or daughter."

While other Hawai'i campuses also bring younger students in for intensive summer classes in English, the difference in the BYUH approach is to emphasize cultural activities as much as academic. It's that extra dimension that builds a longing to come back to Hawai'i, organizers believe.

"The cultural impact will last forever and will have a good economic impact for Hawai'i because they could return as honeymooners," said Jean.

By culture, he means both the rich offerings that Hawai'i provides in terms of its history and diversity, as well as "pop" culture aspects that include a visit to Hale'iwa, billed in the brochure as "Home of Baywatch."

The foreign students hear about the program through visiting recruiters and apply as they would with any study-abroad program and are responsible for the $2,050 cost. They have a choice of staying with a host family or in a dorm on campus.

The efforts have not been without unexpected challenges. Last year, organizers billeted a Japanese and a Korean student together with a host family, said Jean, and the family was concerned there would be conflicts based on the age-old animosity between the two nations.

They need not have worried, said Jean, who found that "they became the best of friends."

There have been other moments of tension, too. One year, a student from China asked why BYUH was flying the flag of Taiwan, which China considers part of its territory.

Jean took the student aside and explained that politics were left behind in this program and that students met in the neutral territory of academia and international friendship. Now organizers make a point of talking about that very thing to each new group.

The program is proving to be exactly what BYUH hoped: another forum for international understanding as well as good public relations for Hawai'i and the La'ie campus.

"The students will never forget that lesson," said Jean. "And this campus is creating the environment for it."

(For more information, call the BYUH Division of Continuing Education at 293-3787.)

Reach Beverly Creamer at bcreamer@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8013.