University system courts students from Asia

Posted July 18, 2010, at 1:02 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 11:29 a.m.

LEE, Maine — A top University of Maine System official will travel to South Korea next month with Lee Academy Headmaster Bruce Lindberg to begin what might lead to a large influx of Asians attending UMaine.

Lindberg, Jim Breece, the vice chancellor for academic affairs for the UMaine system, and Lee Academy board of directors President Barry Webster will attend opening ceremonies at the $11.2 million Daegu International School of Lee Academy in Daegu, the country’s third-largest city, Lindberg said.

The trip will occur in mid-August and take several days, Lindberg said.

The goal, Breece said, is to follow Lindberg’s trailblazing path in establishing relationships with South Korean and Chinese officials that could lead to as many as 150 students from each country enrolling as undergraduate students in the system’s seven colleges.

“We are very pleased at what Bruce has been able to accomplish,” Breece said Friday.

But Breece cautioned that reaching such an understanding with officials in South Korea and China could take a long time and faces many pitfalls, including cultural barriers and government red tape.

Several hundred Asian students attend University of Maine System colleges, including about 90 from China.

In addition to the Daegu school, Lee Academy has established the Shenzhen American International School in Shenzhen, a subtropical port city of 12 million in southern China.

The Daegu and Shenzhen schools are part of Lee Academy’s efforts to market American high school education to the Far East while expanding its enrollment of foreign-born students educated in Lee, a small northern Penobscot County town about 10 miles east of Lincoln and Interstate 95.

Starting in 2008, Lindberg visited Busan, Daegu and Seoul in South Korea and the Chinese cities of Shenzhen, Shijiazhuang, a northern city of 9 million southwest of Beijing, and Chengdu, a city of 11 million just south of the center of China.

In addition to an influx of tuition money, Lindberg said, the recruiting effort could lead to something he has pushed for since the academy began its eastward push: development of relationships between Maine and Asia that leads to the investment of money and the creation of jobs in Maine.

“We are extremely excited that the University of Maine wants to partner with Lee Academy,” Lindberg said last week. “But more important, it’s a partnership with the state of Maine.”

“At Lee Academy, we look at this [the school’s Asian expansion effort] as a statewide venture. Yes, we are promoting Lee Academy, but we are also promoting the state,” he added. “We don’t want it to be narrowly focused on education. At some point, we want the involvement of business people in Maine seeking to connect with people in China and South Korea.”

The Maine International Trade Center also has considered establishing relationships with the two countries, Lindberg said.

University officials have discussed opening a recruiting office at the Daegu Lee Academy and allowing an exchange of credits and UMaine curriculums taught in South Korea, Lindberg said.

The Daegu school has 203 pupils enrolled, more than the 180 Lindberg had hoped to recruit for the school’s first year. The Shenzhen school opened in September 2009 and had at least 85 students in grades one through seven this spring.

Lee Academy plans to add a new grade a year to the Daegu school, and possibly to start a student exchange program between Daegu International and Lee Academy in two years, Lindberg has said.

A private academy founded in 1845, Lee contracts with local school boards to educate students from the towns of Lee, Springfield, Webster and Winn. The school also serves students from Greenbush, Kingman, Topsfield, Vanceboro and the Passamaquoddy Tribe of Maine.

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