When a 16-year-old Chinese exchange student came to live with the Stevens family of Port Washington, she felt right at home—her ‘sisters’ were born in China too
When Brenda and Brian Stevens of Port Washington received an e-mail asking if they would host a Chinese high school student, the couple hesitated only long enough to ask their two daughters if it was OK with them.
Both daughters — Chloe, 14, a freshman at Port Washington High School, and Kenzie, 12, a sixth-grader at Thomas Jefferson Middle School — were adopted in China. The couple learned about the Forte International student exchange through a Yahoo support group for parents who adopted children from Chloe’s orphanage.
They were able to pick the student they wanted and chose 16-year-old Vincy Wen Siyu, a junior who attends a boarding school in China.
“I liked English and wanted to experience another country,” said Vincy, who is finding the English spoken here is not quite the same as that taught in her Chinese school, but she’s learning quickly.
Chloe and Kenzie are definitely Americans and don’t think of themselves as Chinese, but they enjoy hearing from Vincy about the country where they were born and discussing the differences between the two cultures.
The last time the Stevens family was in China was when they brought 10-month-old Kenzie home.
Chloe, who was 3 at the time, said, “I remember being carried on the Great Wall and begging to hold Kenzie.”
Mrs. Stevens said the children in the orphanage were fascinated with Chloe’s Caucasian doll.
The couple considered domestic adoption, but were concerned about the possibility the birth parents could change their minds. Adopting a baby girl in China was one of the quickest foreign adoptions available at the time, Mr. Stevens said. The process took 16 months for Chloe and 17 months for Kenzie.
“Now, the wait is six years,” he said. “They have some boys available for adoption, but they usually have special needs.”
The Chinese rule that families can have only one child has been relaxed a little, allowing some families to have two children, Mr. Stevens said.
Vincy said her Chinese high school is very different from Port High, where she is taking U.S. history, ecology, algebra II, communications, crafts and business and everyday law.
She also joined the basketball team.
Her favorite subject is algebra, Vincy said, because language isn’t as important as numbers, and it’s material she already learned in China.
At her boarding school, Vincy attended classes from 7:15 a.m. to 7 p.m. followed by three hours of homework.
“We can’t choose classes, like here,” Vincy said. “We all take the same classes.”
She is an ice skater in addition to being in the music club, but there isn’t time for much else. She has a one-month summer break with six weeks off between semesters.
Vincy had to pass a strenuous exam in eighth grade to continue on the university track. Those who fail learn a trade, she said.
There are only three years of high school in China. Since her class will graduate in the spring while she’s still in Port, Vincy will participate in Port High’s commencement and receive a diploma.
Vincy will return home in June, but hopes to be in California next fall.
“I’ve always wanted go to the University of California. That’s my dream school,” said Vincy, who plans to major in photography and business.
“I want to learn many more languages,” she added.
Vincy is an only child. Her father is a civil engineer and her mother owns a cafe. Her home and school are in Nanchang, a city of three million people in Jiangxi Province. She stays connected with her family and friends through WeChat.
Vincy enjoys the Stevens home on its large lot and was amazed to see a deer and two fawns cross the road there.
“My mother would love it here,” Vincy said. “We have only concrete. No trees and grass. No place to have a house like this.”
Chloe and Kenzie, who are straight A students and on their school’s Student Council, devote most of their free time to dance. Both are advanced students at Lake Shore Dance in Port Washington and members of the company, competition, DanceIt! and Warped Dance teams.
Chloe is interested in a medical career, possibly becoming a pediatrician. Kenzie says she wants to be an attorney “so I can yell at people.”
The three girls have distinct personalities, Mrs. Stevens said.
Chloe is quiet and studious while Kenzie is very outgoing, their mother said.
Vincy is quiet and shy until she gets to know people.
“She’s adjusted very well to school and has made lots of friends,” Mrs. Stevens said.
“They’re so nice and happy to help me,” Vincy said shortly before several friends arrived to take her out to eat and to a football game.
Like most teenage girls, Vincy loves shopping. She bought new jeans and shirts, and she and Chloe shopped together for outfits for the homecoming dance this Saturday. Both are going with groups of friends.
Vincy rarely wore makeup in China, but Chloe has changed that here.
When Vincy misses hearing her language, she goes to China King restaurant in Port. She not only likes the food, but the owners and employees are happy to speak with her in their native language.
Although she likes Chinese food, Vincy said, her favorite dish here is her American mother’s spaghetti and meatballs.
Image information: ASPIRING PHOTOGRAPHER Vincy Wen Siyu, an exchange student from China, took a picture of her American sisters Chloe (left) and Kenzie Stevens, who struck ballet poses. Photo by Sam Arendt