In early September, Northern Illinois University and DeKalb High School, as well as high schools in St. Charles and the Illinois Math and Science Academy (IMSA) in Aurora, welcomed nine high school students from western Taiwan, who spent three weeks immersed in American-style education and culture.
The 11th- and 12th-graders lived with DeKalb High School families during their stay. They are the second group of students from Taiwan’s Miaoli County to visit NIU and DeKalb in the past two years as part of a program called Open Imagination.
“Open Imagination was really a team effort,” said Terry Borg, director of the College of Education’s Office of External and Global Programs, which helped plan the visit. “The Education Bureau of Miaoli came to us with this grand idea about opening their students’ minds to a different way of learning.”
The students spent four days at DeKalb High School, three in St. Charles and another two days at IMSA shadowing students and attending classes. They also spent a week at NIU participating in classes that align with their career goals — law, science and medicine, diplomacy, and marketing, to name just a few.
According to Borg, the Taiwanese students are not the only ones to benefit from the experience. “Open Imagination is just as important to our host students,” he said. “This has provided them one-on-one personal experiences with their peers from halfway around the world. It makes the world a little smaller.”
“Open Imagination is extremely important to our students,” said Tamra Ropeter, principal at DeKalb High School. “Getting to know other cultures, what other countries’ educational systems are like – it’s invaluable.”
The students’ experiences were not confined to the classroom. Another Open Imagination supporter, the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) in Chicago, feted the Taiwanese students and their DeKalb hosts to a day of Chinese and American culture on Sept. 12 with a reception featuring an orientation to Chicago, lunch and a song and dance program that evening at the Taipei Cultural Center.
The students visited the Museum of Science and Industry and the Field Museum. They also toured Wheaton’s Cantigny Park, home to both a museum that documents the history of the U.S. Army’s 1st Infantry Division and the Robert R. McCormick Museum.
Borg said he hopes that this year’s Open Imagination Project can be expanded to include a reciprocal visit from DeKalb High School students this spring.