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International Student Program: The Wilsons and Jacky Zhang ‘18

Hosting an international student forms one family out of two.

While school nurse Kristen Wilson was palming warm foreheads and administering inhalers to Elementary students, back at home there were two Crock-Pots slowcooking dinner for her family. The newest addition, Zhang '18, was an active six-foot teenager who ate like one.

Jacky is from China but was a student at GAC through the International Student home-stay program. Like most parents, Jacky’s family had high aspirations for his academic future. After years of extensive research on American High Schools, the clear match for their son’s goals was a K-12 Christian school in Norcross, Georgia.

When students are accepted into the program, they are carefully paired with a family who will be their host-family. While new and exciting, this can be where much of the acclimation to America begins.

Ms. Wilson and her husband Coach Robbie Wilson had two children under the age of 8 with another one on the way. Their parenting experience did not include teenage boys. They were in uncharted territory.

“We heard that other families hosted students. We thought it was a good way to build community,” Ms. Wilson said. Build community they did. While Jacky took full advantage of co-curriculars and social time, the Wilsons became enmeshed in the High School community. Between soccer practices to time at the mall — Jacky lived the typical American High School experience, and the Wilsons with him.

Over Jacky’s time at GAC, the Wilsons recommitted to hosting him each year. While host families are only bound to one year with their student, most commit to their student’s full time at GAC, wanting to experience the entirety of their High School life. Amongst the memories of daily life, Ms. Wilson’s most treasured memories are of spiritual challenge.

“It was great to watch him grow spiritually,” she said. “He helped us be vulnerable. As Christians, we like to avoid certain questions. He would pose questions I hadn’t thought of before and really had to think through. Sometimes, I’d have to be fearfully honest and say that I didn’t know the answers to some of his questions.”

These types of honest, tough conversations built trust amongst the blended family. Nearing the end of Jacky’s time with the Wilsons, he called his host-parents ‘Mom’ and ‘Dad’ and had three little siblings who looked up to him as their brother.

When he walked across the stage in the Long Forum in May of 2018, Jacky had gained more than what he intended in a GAC diploma. Making the grades is a small piece of what students take away from GAC. Jacky had a newfound command on the English language, achieved impeccable grades, participated in clubs and sports teams, and was voted Most Likely to Succeed by his graduating class. Jacky had clearly made an impression on the GAC community.

“You look back on 4 years and say ‘Where did the time go?’” Nurse Wilson said. “But now we have a lifetime relationship...I look forward to future times together.”

Now a student at UC Berkeley, Jacky keeps in touch with his host family between classes and study groups. His GAC education served him well to get him to his dream school, but the GAC community brought him a family connection that will last an eternity.

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