|High schools in English-speaking countries have long welcomed international students, who usually use them as a stepping stone into university in a particular country. However, another side to high school education for international students is the shorter-term, high school year or semester programme.
Students studying for short periods at a high school usually benefit from English as a second language (ESL) classes, while they join mainstream students for other lessons. “This means, as well as a deluxe ESL programme, students have access to courses that include everything from film-making to advanced placement calculus,” says Clemens Rettich, District Principal at Cowichan Valley International Student Programme in BC, Canada.
According to Mike Kliman, District Administrator of International Programmes at School District No.38, also in BC in Canada, international students relish the opportunity to take the courses that are not available in their schools at home. This might include anything from visual and performing arts to environmental biology and robotics. At St Christopher School in Letchworth, Hampshire, in the UK, international students are generally encouraged to study for at least a period of one year in the sixth form. This means they take the AS level course in up to five subjects in addition to extra ESL classes. “The fact that AS, the first year of the A-level course, is a self-contained course, [means it] offers international students the opportunity to secure a qualification at the end of the year in UK,” explains Ed Peters, Director of Marketing at the school.
Studying at a boarding school like St Christopher offers other advantages. “At a boarding school, [international students] not only experience English on a daily basis but also have a wide range of creative and sporting opportunities, so they can pursue their interests and strengths,” says Peters, adding, “A boarding house is a secure and supportive environment that helps students acclimatise to life in the UK, make new friends, and encourages them to make the most of their time.”
A different type of high school year programme is offered by Aspect, which sponsors high school students to study in the USA either for one semester or a whole academic year. “Students live with a volunteer American host family and attend the local public or private high school,” explains Vivian Fearen from Aspect. Short-term high school courses are popular with students from a wide range of countries. Rettich in Canada reports high interest from Korea, Germany, China, Japan and Brazil. “This has changed in that previously, the majority of our students were from Japan. Now Korean and German students are an important part of our student body,” he comments. He also notes that there is growing interest from Brazil.
Agent, Ana Cecilia Aguiar Poluhoff at BICS Ensino de Idiomas in Brazil, confirms the trend towards high school year programmes in Canada, their most popular destination for this type of course. “Brazilians are very fond of Canada, the issuance of visas is trouble-free and fast, and the temperatures on the west coast are pleasant for Brazilians,” she says.
Fearen also notes a change in student nationality on their US high school programme. “Historically, Germany, Brazil and Japan have been top sending countries for our high school year in the USA programme,” she recounts. “In recent years, we have seen a tremendous increase in interest from South Korea, Thailand, China and Vietnam, due to fewer visa restrictions and economic factors.”
Another trend noted by a number of high schools is a decrease in the average age of international students enrolling on short-term high school courses. “Most students are now coming at an earlier age,” states Kliman. “In the past, students would come to us at the average age of 16. Now they tend to be coming at age 13.”
In addition, their motives for studying short-term at a high school overseas have changed. “Traditionally, many European and Scandinavian students chose the high school year in the USA programme because they genuinely wished to experience ‘the American way of life’ with a real American family,” observes Fearen. “While this still holds true, in recent years, more high school-aged students are also seeking the study abroad experience for building their educational resume in the interest of future career opportunities.” Although a high proportion of international students still go overseas to complete their whole high school education as a prerequisite to university studies in the host country, many school sources report a shift in favour of short-term high school programmes. “All across Asia, bilingual schools are opening up, and more and more post-secondary opportunities are becoming available,” relates Scott Bergstrome, Director of Gulf Islands International Program in Canada. “It wasn’t that long ago that most of our international students, mainly from Asia, came to our programme with the goal of graduating and going on to university in Canada or the US. Today these students are the minority, as most of our current students are now enrolling in one semester or one year ESL or cultural/educational programmes.”
One of the advantages of a short-term high school programme is that it can give the student a valuable experience of overseas education without the long-term financial commitment of full-term studies overseas.
Caroline Hugo from St Edmund’s College in Hertfordshire in the UK says this factor is appealing to some parents. “[Students] want the benefit of the UK educational experience which encourages independent thought and learning, they also want the opportunity to extend their English language skills, [but] some parents, however, cannot afford more than a year or even aterm,” she observes.
Price can be a determining factor for destination too, according to Boelo van der Pool at Babel Idiomas agency in Spain. They send the majority of their students wishing to experience high school overseas to the USA. “Last year we also [sent] some students to Ireland, but it turned out to be almost five times more expensive,” he claims.
Vivian Fearen, President of Aspect Foundation in the USA, says their formula of using non-fee paying high schools is one of the reasons for the programme’s popularity. “International demand is definitely growing, as it remains an affordable choice for families worldwide, thanks to the USA free public high school system and the American volunteer host family tradition.”
Agent, Laura Lin at Beijing Century Elite Teaching Research Center in China, says shorter programmes suit the Chinese market better. ”Studying abroad is big money - short programmes save money,” she observes.