Parachute Kids and Lutheran Education

Parachute Kids and Lutheran Education

by Dave Kohl

At least 40 Lutheran schools (LCMS and WELS) in the United States are welcoming an estimated 330 students whose families remain in China. With globalization, relaxed student immigration practices, and the keen desire of Chinese parents to help their students become proficient in the English language, school-age students as young as 12 are being sent to America without their family. They have become known as “parachute kids.”

The youth generally live with host families connected to schools or congregations and participate in most classroom and community life 8,000 miles from their parents, siblings, and friends. Desirous of a quality experience for their students, Chinese parents may pay as much as most college tuitions to American secondary schools.

Beginning in the 1990s, and accelerating after 2008, these students have been finding their way to Lutheran schools — a few elementary schools from Oregon to Wisconsin and Maryland, and mostly high schools from California to Illinois and New York to Florida. At least half of the high schools have residential facilities. Some Chinese family members temporarily move to America for their student to attend a particular school while living with at least one parent or sibling. Others arrange for homestays or live with a sponsor in a family living arrangement.

Typically, Chinese students are enthusiastic about all things American—speaking good English, visiting places seen in American films, owning name brand American products, and making friendships for networking (guanxi). With understandable trepidation, they are keen to experience American-style education and new situations.

It must be said, up front, that while no direct proselytization is to be done, by mutual signed agreement, the overall experience provides ample opportunities in daily Christian witness through lifestyle, classroom management, involvement with church-related activities, and family interaction. Teaching and living out a biblical perspective promises an atmosphere of kindness and respect and a learning environment with Christ’s message of hope and purpose.

For any school considering including foreign residential students in their student body, there are several factors to contemplate, including housing and community, the instructional program, the recruitment of international students and holistic commitment to supporting these students.


About the author: Dave Kohl can be reached at or 503-704-4090. Additional information was published in the Lutheran Education Association publication “Shaping the Future” available at

Dave Kohl is a 1968 graduate of Concordia University, Nebraska, and holds master’s degrees from University of Illinois (Urbana) and Hong Kong University. He taught art at Hong Kong International School from 1973-1980 and now resides in Oregon. 



Espey, John, Tales Out of SchoolStories of a Boyhood in China, Knopf, New York, 1947

Holmes, Madelyn, Students and Teachers of the New China, McFarland,  Jefferson, NC, 2008

*Kohl, David, ed., DragonTaels, Spirit Press, Portland, OR  2007

*Kohl, David, Lutherans on the Yangtze, Spirit Press, Portland, OR  2014

Pollock, David, The Third Culture Kid Experience, The Experience of Growing Up Among Worlds, Intercultural Press, Yarmouth, ME, 1999

Purcell, Victor, Problems of Chinese Education, Kegan Paul, 1936

Ryan, Janette, International Education and the Chinese Learner, University of Hong Kong, 2012

 Talking About China in English,

Tong, Benson, ed., Asian American ChildrenA historical Handbook and Guide,  Greenwood Press, Westport CN, 2004

Tsang, Chiu-Sam, Nationalism in School Education in China, 1933, Hong Kong, 1967


*Order copies of these from Dave Kohl, 6300 Barclay, West Linn, OR 97068

DragonTaels @ $5 plus postage ($6.75)

Lutherans on the Yangtze @ $40 (20% discount) plus postage ($6.75)

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