CLINTON — After sharing his excitement of the wonderful discoveries he made in recent weeks exploring Clinton, Jack Yan, a 15-year-old Chinese student, gave an unusual choice for his favorite.
“I think it would be my bed,” Yan said for laughs Saturday during an international student celebration at Clinton High School. “The hardest part of my life in Clinton is getting up in the morning.”
Seriously, though, he’s had his greatest time so far at the high school, where he said teachers, staff and especially students have welcomed him and his peers.
Yan is one of 15 students with the Pangaea International Academy who have taken up residence at the former Ashford University campus and attend classes at Clinton High School.
This is their first school year in Clinton, and, given the warm reception so far, officials with the Chinese-based for-profit corporation sponsoring the students expect to spread the word back home. An agreement between the Clinton School District and Confucius International Education Group, LLC, accommodate staffing needs for an additional 72 students at Clinton High.
“When I come to Clinton I feel like I’m home,” Lingtao Kong, CEO of Confucius International Education Group, said in Mandarin that was translated to English.
During Saturday’s student celebration Kong shared a story about how the other day he went to a bank in Clinton where he met a woman wearing a pin with “Welcome to Clinton” in both English and Mandarin. Clinton, he added, is one of the friendliest places he’s ever visited.
Saturday’s celebration, which was attended by local public officials including Iowa state Rep. Mary Wolfe and Iowa state Sen. Rita Hart, offered a colorful glimpse of Asian culture. Chinese students bopped around the Clinton High School theater stage with a K-pop dance routine and several of Pangaea’s staff members showed off their tai chi skills.
Kong capped off the event by singing a popular Chinese folk song, where at one point he invited all students, Chinese and American, to join him on the stage. Afterwards, Kong, a descendent of Confucius, said he used to be a musician and actor.
“I wish all students to aim higher and fulfill their dreams,” he said.
Kong’s group picked Clinton due to its location on the Mississippi River and the significance of Iowa as an agricultural state, he said. He described students “as plants” needing nourishment to grow and friendship between the two countries as the flow of the river that “will never end.”
The Chinese students wouldn’t have been able to navigate American culture without ambassadors their age. Annika Reed, 17, a junior at Clinton High, was one of many who stepped up.
Reed first met Tiffany Yang, 15, a sophomore with the Pangaea International Academy, in the spring when she offered to take her to some of her classes.
“When I found out she was coming again, I was super excited,” Reed said.
“She helped me a lot,” Yang said. “Everyone is really great.”
Plans include opening Ashford’s former bluff-top campus to both the Pangaea and Clinton students sometime this school year. The campus has been renamed the New Six Arts International Education Park.
Deb Olson, former Clinton School District superintendent, began duties last month overseeing operations and curriculum there. She touted the science labs, renovated before Ashford closed, that will be a vital educational asset for Clinton’s students.
The cultural sharing, Olson said, will be even more vital.
“Clinton is not as culturally diverse as we’d like it to be,” she said. “If we can bring international students here, it will help make the world a little bit smaller.”
Olson went a step further, hinting at a current state of global affairs while seeing hope in how well the Clinton and Chinese students connect.
“If those kids are like this, and we can make the world smaller, then whatever issues exist between the United States and China can be dealt with a lot more easily,” she said.