Hear from Students
Background: this is a male student studying in a private day school in the United States. He didn’t have much experience studying abroad before.
I had heard stories of international students only hanging out with each other before coming to the United States. I heard some students had no friends after years in the United States. I heard that international students always showed off by wearing expensive clothes or buying luxury cars. I heard international students were looked down upon by their American peers. Every time I heard these stories, I made up my mind to not be someone like this. I believed that I could make Chinese culture popular and make a lot of American friends. I thought I could do the same thing since I had so many friends in China.
The reality was not that ideal. In my first month in the U.S., I became someone that I did not want to be: I only hung out with Chinese people. I could not speak to my American classmates. It wasn’t that I did not want to; it was because I was afraid. I was afraid my English was not fluent enough. I was afraid that they thought that I was a boring person. I felt like the international student group was a separate group in this high school and it made no difference to anyone else whether or not we existed.
In the second month, I had my first American friend, who was also a new student and did not have “his people” here. Weeks later, we had our first friend group. This did not make much difference. Having a friend group did not automatically mean that I fitted in here; it only meant that I could sit with someone while eating lunch.
Language was the main barrier. I spoke slowly and sometimes could not say a simple sentence when talking to someone. This made communication difficult and “unequal”. People who talked to me would automatically assume that what I was saying was not important and did not pay enough attention. It was much more difficult to join the conversation when there were lots of people talking together. I always felt like I, as an international student, was being neglected.
Everything started to change in my junior year. The only thing I did was to force myself to be more confident. And I began to become confident. I did not “practice in my brain” what I was going to say. If I made a mistake, I would just make it a joke. I began to have real American friends, though I only had five of them. The number was not big but was enough for me. I was no longer afraid of talking to others and had more people who knew me. I have several suggestions:
Be confident! It won’t just affect your social life, but also your life and future. Do not be ashamed of your weight, height, look, ethnicity, or anything you cannot change. The most crucial thing in a relationship or friendship is respect. If you do not respect yourself, it will be hard for others to respect you. Things you can do include keeping eye contact and not being afraid of mistakes.
Do not avoid Chinese people. A lot of parents or people who do not know what life looks like in an American high school assume that avoiding Chinese people can make it easier to make friends with Americans. It is not worth it. And you will find yourself stuck between the two cultures, not being accepted by either of them. My recommendation is to ignore nationality and make friends with people you like. It is a loss to intentionally avoid any type of people, especially people from your own culture because it indicates your insecurity and lack of confidence
When you find yourself ignored by others, point it out. Sometimes people hear you, but they are not “listening,” because they think the content is not worth their attention. Do not ignore it. Make them realize their mistakes.
Do not be afraid of the “popular kids.” You need to know that they are just normal people. You might be smarter and more talented than them. You are an interesting person, but they have not yet discovered it.
Background: This is a female student studying in a public high school in LA. She did not have much experience studying abroad before.
I want to share my experiences dealing with “rich Chinese kids” when studying abroad.
I study at a public high school in LA. There are a lot of Chinese international students, and a lot of them are the so-called “rich second generation.” I had never met that type of people before, and my experience here almost changed my life.
When I first met them, they always had so many electronic products from Apple, clothes from Hermes, bags from Chanel, etc. I never knew the names of some of the brands before.
When I first arrived here, I was curious about everything. I wanted to make friends with them, but I found that we had so many differences. I disliked some of them because of the following reasons:
They spent so much money without a second thought. Two girls I knew went to luxury stores every weekend and went on vacation every time there was a school break.
They paid no attention to schoolwork. One girl always looked on the websites of luxury brands during study halls, while having no common knowledge like not knowing who Socrates was.
There was so much drama between them.
This made me feel angry and helpless. I thought about why they could spend money and have fun as long as they wanted, and why they did not pay attention to schoolwork as students. I saw no Chinese virtues in them. I respected their parents, who earned the money by themselves, but felt sad that they were the generation to inherit the money.
If you ever encounter these types of Chinese people, try to ignore them. Going to a better high school or college could reduce the number of these people. I hope that through hard work which can provide better opportunities they could disappear from my life.
Background: This is a male student studying in a private day school in the United States. He didn’t have much experience studying abroad before.
What I learned from my four years in an American high school was the ability to overcome difficulties and the ability to endure loneliness.
The most important difficulty for me at that time was the differences between my self-expectation and the reality or the circumstances around me. I went to a “mediocre” day school, and I have always heard that American colleges preferred to admit Chinese students from boarding schools. I didn’t understand why before, but then I realized how hard it was to collaborate with peers in my school in prestigious competitions, take harder courses, or do research. But I did not choose to transfer when I got an offer from a top boarding school because I knew colleges would also admit excellent students from day schools these days compared to some of the well-packaged applicants from some boarding schools whose profile seemed too perfect to be true. I also knew that colleges wanted students with unique traits and personalities, so I focused on that by keeping extracurriculars and focused on the subjects that I was good at to be the “best student” at my school. So “the ability to overcome difficulties” I am talking about here is to use the limited resources around you to get the most out of it. It can be seen as a compromise, but it is also about thinking carefully about your real-life situation and figuring out what exactly is your strength, what you want to pursue and what are your long-term and short-term goals and making a plan accordingly. The ability to not follow most people’s opinions and think independently was an important thing I learned.
And the second ability, to endure loneliness, was also important. Since I arrived at the airport in Boston four years ago, I have felt lonely. Every time I talked to my parents, made friends, found a girlfriend, or posted something on social media in those four years, I felt like what I was trying to do was to make myself less lonely or try to pretend I did not feel lonely. It was hard to describe the feeling, but I think most international students can understand what I am talking about here.
And there are some reasons for loneliness. I think the most important reason is because of the relationship with parents. I could only chat with my parents via FaceTime, and sometimes we talked once per 3 days or a week. I felt less close to my parents, especially when they had no idea what I was going through in an American high school. I found it hard to explain my situation, so I just did not explain it and only told them the “good news” in case they were concerned. This bothered me for a long time. The second reason for loneliness was cultural differences. I had friends who went to their classmates’ parties every day and rarely spoke Chinese, and I also had friends who rarely talked to Americans. I thought most people should be “between'' these two kinds, and I was one of them. I could go to model UN and do group projects together with my American friends, but when they started talking about a drama queen or a football game, I felt like I was left out. And when I talk about cultural differences, I don’t just mean habits or interests. I think it’s more about values and life goals. It’s really hard to have real friends when you have few things in common. Another reason is the social life dynamics among international students. Private schools are usually small with few Chinese students, so as time goes on, we almost know everything about other international students. If there is anything bad or if drama happens, almost every Chinese student would know. So we have to be very careful when socializing with others. It’s also hard to describe this but everyone who has similar experiences can get it. Last but not least, it’s also hard to find a girlfriend or boyfriend. If you choose to fall in love with someone in the same school, it will be very embarrassing when you break up because you would still see each other every day. If you choose someone outside of the school, you can’t hang out a lot. And since international students often feel more lonely, they have higher expectations from what they can get from falling in love with someone, and this can be a burden.
Honestly, I regret a little for choosing to go to an American high school. I am no longer close with my old friends and sometimes I don’t understand what is going on in my country while I also don’t truly understand or accept American society. But I also think that the loneliness I experienced in these years is a normal thing for grown-ups, and I am somehow prepared for this loneliness I will continue to face.
Background: This is a male student studying in a private day school in the United States. He had prepared for studying abroad before.
When I first came to the U.S., I felt pretty confident about my writing ability. I had also read several literature and philosophy works in English. Therefore, I thought writing in English was a piece of cake. However, my average score for essays was around 80 in my first year.
I felt disappointed about the score. Once I got an 80 for an essay I spent a huge amount of time on, which dropped my average score for the course from an A to a B.
I wanted to show off my ability at that time, so sometimes I talked back to the teacher. One day, my English teacher seemed to be mad--perhaps he thought I was attacking him intentionally. He refused to respond to my questions about the essay. I was mad too. I did not talk to him and stopped participating in class discussions.
This lasted for about a week. I felt disappointed because I had heard that teachers in American high schools respected different opinions. I asked about this to another teacher I trusted, and he suggested that I talk to my English teacher again with a nice attitude. My English teacher might just have a bad day that day.
I knew I should talk to him, but the question was, how? This time, instead of asking him “why did I have an 80 for the essay,” I asked, “how do I improve my writing skills?” To my surprise, he allowed me to rewrite the essay and offered to help me brainstorm.
We sat down together to brainstorm. I noticed the differences between our ways of approaching the essay. I was still influenced by the Chinese writing style, trying to analyze the author’s purpose and intention. My English teacher told me that the thesis, logic, and being supported by textual evidence is more important. The three sub-points of the essay should be related to the thesis, and the textual evidence should be related to the sub-points.
Anyway, the ostentatious use of words and the “life realizations” in Chinese-style writing were not as useful and sometimes diverted the reader from the main point in the United States. I followed my teacher’s guide and earned a 98 for that essay. He also recommended several books to me and encouraged me to ask more questions.
Although we had conflicts, our relationship became better. We also had similar interests so we talked a lot. Eventually, he was the teacher to write a recommendation for me, which helped me get into UChicago.
I learned two things from this experience. First, talk to the teacher strategically. Some teachers don’t like students to merely focus on grades. In this case, ask “how do I improve my writing” instead of “why do I only get an 80.” Sometimes the teacher might just have a bad day. Second, the correct way to write essays in American high school is different from that in China. It needs a specific and strategic practice.
Background: This is a female student studying in a private boarding school in the United States. She had prepared for studying abroad before.
A very important skill to “survive” in the United States is “self-advocacy,” which means to seek opportunities for yourself. When I first got here, I was so used to the mindset in Chinese schools and always obeyed the teacher and followed the authority. I thought that the result would be terrible if I tried to challenge them or negotiate with them. This was not the case here. You need to talk to the authority and teachers more to explain your thoughts and needs. It is not only useful in everyday communication, but also college applications. For example, you might want to take a course that is not allowed for your grade. If you actively talk to your teachers, you might be able to get this opportunity.