BRUNSWICK — For three summers, Chinese high school students have been coming to Brunswick High School to see “the way life should be.”
“The first thing that hits them is the fresh air,” said Robert Goddard, a social studies teacher who organizes the China program. “We take them right down to the shore and they just soak it right in.”
“I tell you, if I could sell bags of it, I’d make a fortune,” he added.
Goddard, who said that as a teacher he “finds the whole world interesting,” has done quite a bit to bring international students to Brunswick and the high school.
Three years ago, he started coordinating with Portland-based Fox Intercultural Consulting to host Chinese students in Maine for four to five days as part of a wider U.S. tour.
So now, each summer, around 20 students from the city of Jin Hua cross the globe to see schools like Harvard and Yale, but they also stop for classes at BHS and to tour the Maine coast.
For the week they are in Brunswick, Goddard said each morning starts in the classroom, with either physics, English, or U.S. history.
In the afternoon, they go on excursions, including taking a boat to Eagle Island in Harpswell, or gardening at Crystal Spring Farm.
Goddard said seeing Maine leaves the students saying some surprising things.
They’re shocked by the variety of architecture in single-family homes, he said, because some of the students come from housing complexes that could “probably fit as many people as the town of Brunswick.”
“They also think we live in a forest, that we’re forest dwellers,” Goddard said.
After the day’s activities, the students’ host parents pick them up.
“My greatest praise and thanks go out to the host parents that took these kids into their lives,” he added.
One could say Goddard is a “permanent” host parent.
Ten years ago, a Chinese student named John came to his family’s home after a connection in Texas fell through. “We huddled together and said we can’t just let him go back,” Goddard said. So they offered to host him for the school year.
John grew close with Goddard’s family and “we’re all family now,” he said. John is now married and works for Cisco Systems in Worcester, Massachusetts.
Goddard’s two other children are originally from India.
BHS has a growing presence of international students, Goddard said, and the China program is a reflection of that.
Two students from previous years’ summer programs actually came back to Brunswick to do their senior year of high school.
“They just love this place,” he said. “The two of them hated to leave here.”
There are nine international students coming to BHS for the upcoming school year, from Brazil, Germany, Finland, Palestine, Ukraine, Moldova, Nicaragua, and China.
“Every teacher who’s had an international student says they’ve benefited from it,” Goddard said. “It’s given (Brunswick) students a much more worldly view.”
And next summer, another batch of students will be coming from Jin Hua to see Maine for the first time.
In anticipation, Goddard said he hopes to establish a “core team” of volunteers to help facilitate the process of finding host parents – something that proves to be tricky every year.
But Goddard thinks it’s an experience any Brunswick parent should hope for.
“Now there’s over a billion people in China … how can you not make some friends over there?,” he said.
Shen Shuyi, left, and Zhou Lei, right, pose with their birthday cake in Robert Goddard’s classroom at Brunswick High School. BHS hosts about 20 students from Jin Hua, China, for a week each summer, and students from several other countries during the school year.
Brunswick schools will open for the 2015-2016 school year on Monday, Aug. 31. School hours are:
• Brunswick High school, 7:40 a.m.-2:10 p.m.
• Brunswick Junior High School, 7:50 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
• Harriet Beecher Stowe Elementary School, 8:50 a.m.-3:20 p.m.
• Coffin Elementary School, 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m.