Three years ago before moving to America from China, Leo Li could barely grasp all the ins and outs of American culture. Now in his third year, as a Junior at Timothy Christian School, he says he thinks like an American student.
“I think I’ve changed a lot. In the past, there were things culturally I didn’t understand but now I do,” says Li.
Like most of the students who come to TCS as part of the Timothy International Program (TIP), Li didn’t really know what to expect. With a limited English vocabulary, there was one thing he immediately noticed about TCS when arriving and he feels it made all the difference.
“I found out this school is really friendly. All the people here are very nice. They have helped me to improve my English and to see the areas I excel in and what my future career path may be,” explains Li. “Before coming to America I had no concept of Christianity. Now I understand that Christians are a group of people who are kind and believe in Jesus Christ as their Savior. All of those concepts were very foreign to me before I came here.”
The TIP program started at TCS 11 years ago. Over the years, TCS international students have come from China, Korea and Pakistan. Timothy is open to accepting students from wherever God may supply.
Taking advantage of the fact that there has been a big push in the last ten years for international students to come to America for school, TCS administrators feel opening this program is missionary work in reverse.
“It’s a good opportunity for our students to learn about other cultures and begin to realize there are other people beyond our borders who do not know the Lord,” says Laura McKay, TIP Director. “We are able to reach out to students outside of the U.S. and give them an opportunity to come to America and be part of a vibrant Christian School.”
While most of the families entering through this program are not Christians – they sense there is something different about TCS.
“Our international parents care about the values they are getting. They care about character development: being honest, being a hard worker, being respectful, honoring your elders – those are values that are important to a lot of cultures,” says Brenda Avila, English as a Second Language (ESL) Teacher.
Brenda Avila is not only qualified for her role at TCS with a B.A. in Secondary English Education and an M.A. in ESL, but she also has the experience of being an ESL student herself. She moved to America at age 10 from Puerto Rico with no understanding of the English language. TIP parents and students find it valuable that she can relate to them from experience, yet love that she doesn’t speak their language.
“I share that immigrant experience with them. When I talk to the parents I tell them that I understand what their child will be going through to eat different foods, to have different weather, to sleep in a different bed, the cultural experience and language barriers,” explains Avila.
“I think it’s really good that Mrs. Avila had the experience of being a foreigner herself. It definitely helps that she doesn’t speak Chinese. Sometimes you just can’t help but speak Chinese with the other students, but because Mrs. Avila is a non-Chinese speaker we are forced to speak English,” explains Li.
Students immediately develop a bond with Mrs. Avila. This allows her to then focus on her primary job –teaching them how to master school in the U.S.
“My job is to teach them the English language so that they can excel in all their classes. Whether in a science or math class, they can understand the assignments and do them well,” says Avila.
TCS’s dedication to TIP students goes beyond the classroom. There are after school programs offered almost daily to help students with grammar, flow, vocabulary, accent and pronunciation.
While Avila spends much time prepping students for exams such as the SAT and TOEFL, at TCS there is also a lot of hands-on learning – a stark contrast to school in China where students are typically just taught to pass standardized tests. It’s a different approach to learning and students like Leo are finding passions in extra-curricular activities they may have never experienced before.
“TIP students are encouraged to take part in all the extra-curricular activities TCS offers. Art is one area that many TIP students tend to love and find they’re very good at it. They have the opportunity to explore this subject as part of their education in America. Debate is another area. Even though they don’t speak English very well, the academic process of thinking through a problem and then being able to argue its finer points in competition improves their communication skills and builds their confidence,” says McKay. “Leo, for example, is on the debate team, part of the band and track & field. He has truly made Timothy his school.”
Another way the international program at TCS is different than programs at other schools is in its TIP coordinator who works for TCS. Helen Yue is a Chinese native whose job is to help international students transition to Timothy. She serves as a guardian overseeing their entire experience and watching out for them while they’re here.
“It is difficult to have a successful international program without a bridge that connects the old country with the new country. Helen is that bridge. She knows both cultures. She knows both languages. She explains cultural things to the TCS faculty and also to the TIP parents,” says Avila.
Yue finds host families for each of Timothy’s international students. The families are then screened and hand-picked for each student. These host families love and care for their international students and go out of their way to make them feel like one of their own.
Yue goes above and beyond to ensure that the international families, the host families, the teachers and the students are connected and working together. She oversees all aspects of each TIP student’s life from academics to social activities. She never misses a student’s birthday. Yue along with all faculty, staff and students make our international students feel welcome and part of the TCS family.
“I tell parents ‘This is a Christian school. Your children have more care and love in this school than anywhere else,’” says Yue.
It is love and care, Li says, that he has definitely felt.
“I am so glad that I’ve chosen this school and become a member of the Timothy family. I will be so happy to see more and more international students come to TCS. They can benefit academically, spiritually and find a home here in the United States,” says Li.
This is the goal of Timothy Christian School’s International Program. By surrounding students with love and caring individualized attention that they will not get anywhere else, students are supported academically, emotionally, socially and spiritually. It is here they feel cared for and have a sense of family. This is what makes Timothy Christian School’s International Program a cut above the rest.
TCS is accepting new students into the TIP program. To find out more visit our TIP page.