The Bear Creek Effect: How a Liberal Arts Education has Transformed Some Chinese Students

  • Student Blog
Bear Creek Upper School students

Bear Creek is a diverse community. International students are an integral part of our big family. Many students chose Bear Creek because of its Christian liberal arts education, and its powerful impact on shaping students. For those who grow up in different cultures, where a Christian liberal arts education is unavailable, the effect can be more evident and profound. Some of our Chinese students volunteered to share their experiences.

Tianze (Maxwell) Chen

senior, National Honor Society President
from Shenzhen, China

Hildegard Feast

Hildegard House Feast (center)

I have been at Bear Creek for my entire high school career. Bear Creek has taught me a lot about the world, but what I most benefited from are my critical and independent thinking skills.

As a student raised in the traditional Chinese education system, I find it hard to challenge a teacher’s opinion. In China, we were imperceptibly taught to refrain from uttering opinions, because doing so may delay the teacher’s instructions. Yes, you do get to ask questions, but once you take more than two minutes, the teacher would simply move on because he/she must attend to the needs of the other 50+ students. At Bear Creek, however, I find it natural to have differing interpretations than a teacher, and more importantly, we are allowed to process the information at our own pace.

It is an accepted practice for a Bear Creek student to point out an error made by a teacher. Students are encouraged to interpret a concept or a literary character from different perspectives. In the process, we are learning that we are human; no one is infallible, even the teachers. And it is normal to have and defend our own opinion. These lessons are invaluable to me. Bear Creek not only nurtures me to pursue the truth but also provides me the critical support for this pursuit. And that is why I think Bear Creek is the place for personal growth and college preparedness.

Xiaotong (Maria) Lu

senior, Bear Creek Ambassador
from Beijing, China

students at 2021 Convocation

Convocation Procession (front middle, in purple)

I started in eighth grade at Bear Creek. As a global nomad, I have traveled and studied at different places in China, Canada, and New Zealand. It is an enriching but frustrating experience because just as I began to get to know the teachers and make friends, I had to leave and start from scratch all over again in another place. It’s challenging to bond with my peers and fit in anywhere, especially at the beginning of my teenage years.

I am grateful to find a home at Bear Creek, a magical place that I fell in love with when I was waiting for my turn to be sorted for the right House. At age 14, I became Harry Potter, and Bear Creek my Hogwarts. What I like most about Bear Creek is its House system. We compete and collaborate among the Houses, keep one another accountable, and strive our best to honor our houses.

Within each House, we have a dean and a faculty advisor who supervise senior student heads and leaders. Under their leadership, we engage with one another in structured and unstructured ways such as games, service opportunities, discussions, and advising. Through such a natural mentoring environment, many older students helped, supported, and championed me. I quickly fit in and have made some lifetime best friends based not only on interest but also on values. In such a nurturing environment, we form a caring community, where mentors develop traditions that pass on as each class graduates. Last year, I became a school ambassador, striving to mentor the next younger group.
Through my experience in the House system, my compassion has been nurtured and grown. It inspired me to volunteer to help teen girls from Chinese Yi ethnic groups who face discrimination. It also motivated me to participate in Harvard’s community impact project, China Thinks Big, to address the lack of free career and college counseling services available to Chinese high school students. These activities not only expanded my horizon but also inspired me to embark on a magical and empowering journey. My craving to find viable and sustainable solutions to help the poor girls and Chinese teens led me to take summer college classes at the University of Southern California (USC) on entrepreneurship and business. By helping others, I found my passion and calling.

You Wu

from Qingdao, China

students at commencement

Commencement (far right)

I came to The Bear Creek School in my freshman year. It has been my most challenging yet enjoyable journey.

Compared to other schools I attended in China, Bear Creek is more competitive academically in terms of course rigor and breadth. Not completely familiar with the American culture and the English language, I felt exceedingly anxious before the school year started. Then at the beginning of the school year, I was overwhelmed by the heavy reading loads. Even though I spent all my free time on homework, I still struggled to complete the work on time. 

Luckily, Bear Creek provided me with all the support and help that I needed. With the assistance of my teachers and peers, I was able to keep up with the pace and I even fell in love with reading. The more I read, the faster and more efficient I became. By the end of the first semester, I was able to complete all the assignments with ease. My English improved significantly. Similarly, with the teachers’ guidance and classmates’ encouragement, I was able to step out of my comfort zone to challenge myself in rigorous math and science classes. 

What I enjoy even more at Bear Creek is its offering of a wide variety of courses with different rigors. A student can not only tailor the subject and its rigor to his/her own needs but also have abundant opportunities to trace an idea from its origin and test it through numerous hands-on experiments. As a result, I have had the privilege to explore many subjects beyond minimum requirements. Because Bear Creek offers so many college-level courses, I feel confident about my college readiness. The school is an academically nourishing place for college preparation.

Andrew Tang

from Shanghai, China

student Andrew Tang

My journey at Bear Creek started at the beginning of ninth grade. Now when I look back, I see that Bear Creek’s Christian liberal arts education has not only enhanced my academic skills significantly but also profoundly changed my perspectives and strengthened my faith in Christ. Furthermore, Bear Creek has provided me with plenty of opportunities to develop my leadership skills, which are so valuable and meaningful for high school students. Overall, the Upper School community is so uplifting and encouraging that it feels like a big family because everyone deeply cares for each other.

Teachers care so much about their students’ success and overall well-being. They give us ample opportunities to ask questions, express our views and opinions, and search for answers through discussion, research, and debate. No questions here are bad. No opinions here are wrong. At Bear Creek, we learn to seek knowledge by thinking critically, and we learn to approach problems from each other’s perspectives. Through this rhetorical way of learning, we integrate our worldviews with academic content, discovering truths that God has placed in this complex world. 

At Bear Creek, abundant opportunities are provided to develop skills and talents according to one’s interests, such as leadership, athletics, arts, etc., in addition to academics. For example, last year I had the opportunity to serve on the Hildegard House leadership team. This meaningful experience led me to the privilege of serving on the Upper School Student Council as the Junior Class Representative this year. As I serve and give back to this wonderful community, I have been gaining more insights about Bear Creek and also about my own worldview. My involvement in the Student Life program has taught me how to become a better servant-leader by teaching me to lead with wisdom, compassion, and courage. These unforgettable experiences have been equipping me with many critical life skills and confidence to walk the path that God has placed in front of me.

Simon Luo

from Shenzhen, China

student in Nagel Common

I am currently a junior, and this is my second year here at Bear Creek. I came directly from China to Seattle. It has been quite a new experience for me. My favorite part about Bear Creek is that it is the sanctuary for me to become who I want to be.

I left my previous school because it is all about schoolwork and testing. I had barely any time to exercise, let alone to pursue my passion in computer science. I felt suffocated. Luckily, I found Bear Creek. Here I have more choices regarding which courses to take and at which level of rigor. The best part is that I now have more free time to do whatever I want to do after school. After coming to Bear Creek, I was finally able to start my own independent coding project. I have longed for a computer science project since elementary school, but I was not able to find time because my Chinese schoolwork consumed all my spare time. This is so far the best part of Bear Creek. 

I am very thankful for our school’s schedule, which ensures we not only do homework every day but also leaves us plenty of time to develop our unique talents. With the time and space that Bear Creek provides, I have been able to explore and pursue what I am passionate about. Coming to Bear Creek is the best decision I have ever made for myself.