Cultural exchange involving Jackson schools and Kent State University Stark Campus offers Chinese students a glimpse of American life.

JACKSON TWP.  Teenagers are teenagers whether they're from the United States or China.

They like amusement parks and video games. They like shopping. They have plenty of questions.

Jackson Township families learned this past week as they accommodated 31 students and two teachers from Jiaozhou Number One High School in Qingdao, China.

A week in Ohio capped off an 18-day trip to the United States by the Chinese students. They started on the East Coast, touring New York City, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., before heading for Stark County to experience family life in the United States.

It has been 10 years since Jiaozhou and Jackson High School, through its Jackson Academy for Global Studies, formed a sister school program know as the Association for Global Education Exchange. Through the years Jackson students and faculty have visited China, and Jiaozhou students have come to the U.S., spending the last few days in Jackson.

"It's been a constant relationship," said Monica Myers, Jackson Local's curriculum director.

KSU involvement

This year, Kent State University Stark campus became involved, offering the Chinese students a taste of the university experience in the United States. The students spent Monday and Tuesday at the campus, taking classes on job market trends and workforce skills the first day and leadership, learning and self confidence the second day. They also spent time playing volleyball and enjoying other activities.

Outside the classroom, the Chinese students took in the Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement Festival's Canton Repository Grand Parade and volunteered at the Akron-Canton Foodbank. They also had time to tour local sites with their host families. Some rode roller coasters at Cedar Point, while other shopped in Beachwood.

Staying with families enhances the American experience for the visiting students, said Bei Cai, an associate professor of communication studies at Kent State Stark. A Jackson resident, she helped the school district connect with Jiaozhou and get the program started.

Having a chance to spend time with Americans in their homes is an important part of the experience, Cai said.

"We want the connection," she said. "It's such an important part of the experience."

As students spend time together, they see that their obvious differences are offset by the many things they have in common.

Differences include long hours in classrooms for the Chinese students, as well as a focus on scoring well on tests. Alice Wang, in her second year at Jiaozhou, said American students are in a more rounded program that isn't solely based on academic performance. She sees an effort to make chances in Chinese schools to broaden programs for students.

The students spent time comparing their daily activities, talking about phone apps and movies, and playing video games. Wang — with Cai serving as an interpreter — said the time spent in Jackson has been fun, but added that she learned a lot from her host family.

An appreciation

Mother of four Kendra Nasvadi, whose oldest son Ethan is a senior at Jackson and participates in the global studies program, was host mom to three of the Chinese students. Seven children made for a crowded house, she said, but that allowed the visitors to experience life with a large family. The Chinese students also experienced Mass at St. Mary's Church in Massillon.

Alexandira Codispodti, a Jackson high senior, said the Chinese students had interests similar to her classmates. Spending time with them helped her gain a better global understanding.

"It makes me appreciate what we have here in America," Codispodti said, adding that it piqued her interest in exploring Asian culture.

Myers and Cai said the home visits often provide the best memories for the visiting students. The parents who volunteer play an important role in the program, Myers said.

Adding Kent Stark into the program's mix has been a plus. Myers called it a great partnership.

Kent Stark already has a Global Education Initiatives program that allows students to enter short-term study abroad trips in Italy, Switzerland, Japan and other countries. Several students and faculty members visited Xi'an, China, earlier this year.

Zac Cino, a Kent Stark junior who graduate from Lake Center Christian School, traveled to China earlier this and met with the Jiaozhou students. While there are differences, Cino said, he found many similarities. Once people learn to overcome their differences, many positives can be found. "It really changed my world view," he said.

Reach Edd at 330-580-8484 or

On Twitter: @epritchardREP