Source: Sherman Publications

DDA director opens home to Chinese student

by Andrew Moser

February 22, 2012

Ask and you shall receive.

The Leader sent out a request via its Facebook page asking if any host families for the 39 Chinese students that visited Oxford for two weeks would like to come forward and share their experiences.

Downtown Development Authority Director Madonna VanFossen came forward and said she loved hosting 15-year-old Yunshu “Isabella” Zhang.

“She (was) absolutely delightful,” Van Fossen said. “It was just exciting for me because she was so excited to learn as much as she could and experience as much of America as she could while she was here.”

“For me to be able to share that was really fun,” she added.

According to Van Fossen, there wasn’t a ton of down time for students due to the amount of activities the district had pre-planned for the students.

Van Fossen said the district had a potluck for all the host families one night, had the students play Whirleyball, go to OxfordStock, the Oxford High School talent show, Winterfest, Michigan State University and a Detroit Pistons basketball game.

In addition, Zhang also went to DDA committee meetings, met some business owners and spent time walking downtown.

“She also got to do a lot of firsts,” Van Fossen said. “She loves babies, so she got to help me babysit (Van Fossen’s grandson) one night and feed him and change him. She had never baked cookies, so we made homemade chocolate chip cookies.”

Van Fossen said while they were baking cookies, Zhang would stop and take pictures in order to send them home to her mother.

They also spent a day touring Detroit together on Sunday, Feb. 5.

“We started out in downtown Oxford and worked our way to downtown Detroit, stopping in between to any and every place I could think of for her to see and take pictures,” Van Fossen said.

She said they visited the Chrysler Museum, Oakland University, the Dodge Mansion, Cranbrook Music Hall, different neighborhoods in Detroit, Wayne State University, the Fox Theatre, Comerica Park, Ford Field, the Detroit Opera House, the casinos and the Detroit Institute of Arts.

Zhang said her favorite part about the trip was walking downtown, playing with Van Fossen’s dog Penny and helping cook dinner, which is something she doesn’t get to do in China because her school days are so long.

“Her school schedule is from seven in the morning until seven at night, and on some nights she even has more classes,” Van Fossen said. “They go to school six days a week. At the particular school she goes to, all the girls have to have short hair.”

“Their focus is 100% of the time on education,” she continued. “She explained it to me that there are so many people in China that you have to excel to be able to accepted to a university, whether it’s in China or abroad so you can come back and get a good job, otherwise your future could be rather bleak.”

Zhang added school in America was “totally different.”

“In Oxford, you go to different classrooms to have different classes, and in China, we just stay in one classroom the whole day and the different teachers come in,” she said.

Van Fossen said she signed up to host a student because she wanted to show her support for the school district.

“I know the work Oxford Schools has established with not only the Chinese government, but with the Mexican government, South African and England, so I am a big proponent of the exchange and all the work that the schools are doing,” she said.

“What an opportunity for people from around the world to come to see Oxford and realize there are places in the United States that are safe and that can draw people here,” she added. “There are so many negative things that are reported that go on in the world.”

She noted her parents hosted a foriegn exchange student from Iran when she was in high school. “It’s really such an eduational experience for both people,” Van Fossen said. “They learn alot about our culture and our way of life, but doing something like that also offers an opportunity for you to grow as an individual.”

Van Fossen said she learned “ the importance of still relaxing” during Zhang’s two week stay.

“One of the things that I learned is that I work alot. I don’t mind that, but sometimes that is not necessarily a good thing. She (Zhang) said to me one night last week ‘you work an awful lot...and sometimes I think you should relax.’”

Van Fossen also said she was “grateful for the freedoms she has in the United States.”

“She was surprised at how much freedom the children in the school have,” Van Fossen said. “She was telling me they do not allow Facebook in China, they do not allow Youtube.”

When the students left on Sunday, Feb. 12, they traveled to Boston before heading to southern California to visit Hollywood and Disney Land, according to Van Fossen.