By Edith Yang

Santa Cruz Waldorf High School, a private school in East Santa Cruz, has a special focus on the countries of the Pacific Rim, particularly China. In spring 2007, the high school started a Chinese language and culture program unlike any other high school in the area.

“What I know is that we are one of the first schools [in Santa Cruz] to be doing this … to have Chinese language offered to our American students and to have Chinese students at our school,” said Oliver von Soosten, management chair of the school.

The five Chinese students studying at Santa Cruz Waldorf High School this term have come to California with the hope of eventually getting accepted into an American university.

“I think that it benefits our students to share their studies with other students across the globe, to be able to sit next to somebody that has a different world perspective,” said Robin Theiss, a humanities teacher at the school.

Chinese student Shiteng Duan, known by his friends as T.T., said he was transitioning well in Santa Cruz, despite the culture shock associated with living in another country. “Everything is different and [I have] experienced many things,” Duan said.

The emphasis on Chinese culture and language comes from the school’s perspective on international education. “When the [school’s] curriculum was first being developed, we wanted to have an emphasis on global awareness and global citizenry,” Theiss said. “And Mandarin has been added to that curriculum because it is currently growing in global significance.”

Tat Chan of Great Nations Group — an agency in Guangzhou, China — is the man who arranges interested students from China to attend schools in the United States.

“He does his best to match up Chinese families with a school of their interest, whether they want a purely academic focus or [something like art],” Lacombe said.

While in the U.S., Chinese students stay with faculty and Santa Cruz community members, including von Soosten, who said the experience has been eye-opening. “It’s not like he came from another state, no, this is a truly different world,” von Soosten said.

But von Soosten hopes that the experience will not only enrich the life of his housemate from China, but will also the impact the daily routine of his own sons, who are also in high school.