Boy leaves most densely-populated part of China for year in Blue Earth
It was just a regular night watching television, when a commercial came on about the foreign exchange student program, and Meng Kuan’s dad pitched the idea to his son.
Meng, otherwise known as Edward, had been very interested in experiencing an American high school anyway, so fast forward a year, and today Edward attends Blue Earth Area High School, living with Ken and Jean Wessels while he’s in Minnesota. His parents back home didn’t have many concerns about sending Edward abroad alone.
“Maybe the first few weeks they wanted to call me a lot — wanted to see how I live here,” he says, explaining that now they’ve adjusted to the idea since he’s been in America several months.
Edward comes to the United States from Macau, which has the highest population density in all of China. It’s not very large, but is home to about 500,000 people, resulting in a crowded area — something Edward doesn’t appreciate.
“I like quiet and peaceful,” he says.
With family in Boston and San Francisco, Edward has made trips to the U.S. before, but Minnesota?– and its original weather — was brand new to him. He was already wearing extra layers in early November, so Ken wondered how Edward will handle things when the thick of winter hits.
“What are you going to do when it gets 30-40 degrees colder?” he asks, smiling.
There may be extreme weather differences, but Edward’s life in Macau and Blue Earth are comparable in some ways. He comes from a small family — just his parents, himself, his 23-year-old brother, Stanley, and their family dog.
Now staying with the Wesselses, Edward has somewhat of a brother because the family is hosting another foreign exchange student at the same time. And with energetic Love frequently barking, a dog remains in Edward’s new “family portrait” as well.
Edward’s parents are self-employed, owning and operating a shop that sells water pumps. He says he doesn’t have any plans to take over the family business, however, and thinks maybe Stanley will run the shop. Instead, Edward would like to attend college and learn about economics.
As far as Edward returning to the Minnesota area one day, Ken says “he better.”
Over the years, Ken and Jean have hosted nine foreign exchange students, and all have been boys. They had a foster son several years back who was curious why the family didn’t take part in the foreign exchange program, and now that they have, the couple has hosted children for five years.
Since coming to BEAHS, Edward has stayed busy with after-school activities — running cross country in the fall, playing basketball this winter and planning to take part in track and field for the spring.
“I was quite surprised when I came here and heard it was separated into different seasons,” he says, explaining how sports where he’s from go year-round instead of lasting only a few months at a time.
Another thing that lasts all year in Macau is the classes. The year is broken into four quarters just like in Blue Earth, but students don’t take certain classes one quarter or semester, and different ones the next. His school starts at 8:30 a.m. and lasts until 4 p.m., with about one and a half hours given to students for lunch.
Chinese, English and math are requirements, but aside from those, students have the option of choosing to focus on commerce-oriented classes or science. Edward chose the commerce route, in which he learns things like economics and accounting.
Edward says his classes back home are much harder, and so is the ability to get around comfortably, since he’s constantly lugging things with him.
“We don’t have lockers,” he explains about his school in Macau. “We are not allowed to leave our stuff at school.”
Although he says his classmates are all very nice, Edward hasn’t been able to pick up on American slang, so it’s difficult for him to understand them, and vice versa.
“My pronunciation is not so good sometimes,” he explains.?“People don’t understand what I’m talking about.”
A year as a foreign exchange student will help Edward practice his English before he begins college, which he thinks he might attend in San Francisco or Boston.
But before high school — and the Wesselses’ time with Edward — is over, they hope to take him on vacation somewhere he hasn’t been.
“We try to get them to see as many things as they can in the U.S. before they go back,” Ken says about the students they host.
The Grand Canyon has been talked about as a possibility for the vacation, and Edward says he’s also interested in seeing Alaska.