Student Spotlight: Bowen Cao

Located in snowy Upstate New York is Manlius Pebble Hill School. “MPH” is a small and vibrant school that helps students grow into mature young adults. They combine academics, community, and culture to develop socially adept scholars who are both conscientious and driven to succeed. Bowen Cao embodies all this and more.

Bowen is from Shenzhen, a metropolis on the Pearl River Delta in Guangdong Province. She’s an active member of her community and family. Her host mother and father, Brandi and Ronald, have three children, Garridy, Braelin, and Taeya.  Bowen’s little sister, Taeya, was adopted from China when she was six years old. When she moved to the United States, she did not speak any English. Bowen’s host mother, Brandi, writes, “After a month of acclimating to our schedule and family, we put her in kindergarten at a public school in our district that provides extra instruction to children just like Taeya.” After about six months, Taeya was just speaking English at home.

Like many children who enter American schools with no English, Bowen discovered that life here was not without its challenges and hurdles. Syracuse is home to thousands of refugees and immigrants. With a large private university and several small independent high schools, Syracuse welcomes thousands of international students. When Bowen first moved to the United States, she attended Brandi and Ronald’s local high school as an exchange student. After a year in the local high school, Bowen transferred to MPH to complete her high school diploma.

Bowen decided to share her firsthand insights, volunteering to speak at a workshop for local ESL teachers. The goal was to help teachers understand what it feels like for children, like Taeya, who are refugees and new immigrants to their schools. Bowen writes, “Kids like my sister [come] here without speaking any English, but they still have to go into regular classes.”

To demonstrate, Bowen created a scenario where Chinese was the only spoken language in the room. She instructor participants to perform first grade math problems in Chinese. “They were so lost,” Bowen exclaimed. “Most of them were not able to [do] a first-grade math problem with that language barrier.” The goal was for educators to have a better understanding of how difficult – and often frustrating – it can be for their students to overcome the language barrier.  In the end, the workshop was a success. Bowen enjoyed the experience and hopes her presentation will help ESL teachers better support their students in the future.

Looking ahead to college, Bowen has already been accepted Early Action to the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign (UIUC) and is eagerly awaiting other college decisions.  Bowen will surely leave a lasting impression at MPH and at home. “We are forever grateful for the experience of adding Bowen to our family,” Brandi writes.  “She will be our daughter and big sister forever.”

If you’re a Cambridge Network member school, host family or student and would like to share your story, please contact Katie Chen at [email protected].