Yushi Li of China finishes his first year at Niskayuna High School next month and plans on another two years and a degree.
And thanks to a new agreement between the Niskayuna school district and Schenectady County Community College, Li’s plans won’t be disrupted by a switch in schools because of visa restrictions. Before the new partnership between the district and college, international students were limited to just one year of study at Niskayuna.
After a year of transitioning to a new culture, Li doesn’t plan on turning back. He said high school life is a lot different in the United States compared to China — more homework in China, more freedom in America.
“I appreciate the American way; it leaves you enough space for creativity and imagination, the time and ability to get where you want,” Li said.
International students like Li who come to take classes at Niskayuna will also be able to earn credits at Schenectady County Community College as part of the agreement finalized at a signing ceremony Monday.
The agreement also helps Niskayuna expand on its International Scholars Program, which launched last year, since the partnership with SCCC allows students to stay in the country on their visas an extra two years.
Niskayuna schools Superintendent Cosimo Tangorra Jr. and SCCC President Steady Moono, who have both held their respective positions for less than a year, said the agreement was “just the first” of more partnerships to come.
“It should open the door to many other successful ventures for all students,” Tangorra said.
In its first two years, nine students have taken advantage of the Niskayuna program, hailing from Austria, Germany, Turkey, Japan and China. Next year, a student from the Czech Republic will bring the country tally to six.
Students pay $15,000 in tuition, $6,000 in housing, $2,000 in administrative fees on top of airfare and living expenses. The program offers $2,000 grants to students based on academic strength, financial need and as an incentive to further diversify the program. Students live with host families in the district.
Under the federal rules that allow the district to accept tuition-paying foreign students, the students can only stay for one year. (For private schools, they are allowed to stay for three years.) By partnering with SCCC, the students can now spend one year taking Niskayuna courses and two years enrolled at both the high school and the college, and earn college credit along the way. Many SCCC courses are offered at the high school. Li, for example, will be taking AP biology and AP English at the high school, and be eligible for college credit as well.
Last year, a pair of Chinese students in the program transferred to a private school because Niskayuna couldn’t accommodate them for longer, said Edward Alston Sr., the program coordinator.
“We had to lose those students,” Alston said. “They were wonderful so we would have loved for them to stay. Unfortunately, we didn’t have that opportunity for them last year — now we do.”
Alston said the program has five students lined up for next year and that the school hopes for 10 students total by the start of the school year, looking to gradually increase the number of international students in the program over time.
Moono, who grew up in Zambia before coming to America, was once an international student himself. He said the culture shock for international students can be challenging to overcome, and that the partnership with Niskayuna will give those students a chance to ease into higher education.
“It’s extremely overwhelming coming from a different culture and on top of that there is this whole other culture of higher education in America,” Moono said.
Li said he came to Niskayuna knowing that he could transfer to a private school if he had to, but that he was happy he would be able to stay in public schools.
“[Private schools] are more expensive and the teachers may not be as good as at public school, and I’m already making friends,” he said. “I still keep a Chinese way; I work very hard. Other students ask me: Why do you do that … ? I say, no, I’m just Chinese.”
And he’ll need to keep working hard if he wants to pursue a degree in science at one of his three top college choices: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Cornell and MIT.
Reach Gazette reporter Zachary Matson at 395-3120, [email protected] or @zacharydmatson on Twitter.