By: Eliza Caisse ‘18
Being away from home is never easy. Whether we are away for school or on a lengthy vacation, most of us will experience feelings of homesickness at some point in our lives. But what if these days away from home were spent in a foreign country; in a place where people spoke another language and took part in entirely different cultural practices from your own? Here at Friends Central, this is what life is like for the Chinese international students, who experience high school without the same daily familial comforts as the majority. I recently sat down with Chinese international student Angela Zhang (張千慧) ‘18, born and raised in Shanghai, China, to discuss her personal experiences living away from home and going to high school in a different country.
How did you decide to attend Friends’ Central for high school?
“Coming to Friends’ Central was more of an accident, but it was a good accident. I grew up in a very rigorous family, and it was really hard for me mentally. I was at a point where I knew that attending school in America was what would be healthiest for both me and my parents. Originally, I applied to Baldwin, Shipley, Agnes Irwin, and Westtown, but I ultimately chose to go to Friends’ Central because my mom and I both loved the potential host family that they offered (Emma Verges (‘17) and her family). Emma was so awesome — she was a go
od student, and she seemed to be really responsible and caring. My parents really like her parents, and I really liked her.”
What are the best and worst parts of living away from your family?
“The best part about living away from your parents is that you can really decide what you want to do. I think I have the most freedom among people my age, but that also comes with a lot of responsibility of knowing your priorities. Being so far away from my parents has also helped me to better appreciate and cherish every moment that I do have with them — it has actually improved our relationship a lot.
The worst part about livin
g away from my parents is that it gets really hard during holidays like Chinese New Year, which I haven’t celebrated for the past 4 year. That is a time when I really miss home.”
What were some of the culture shocks that you experienced upon arriving in the states?
“The first was ‘American’ Chinese food. I had never heard of fortune cookies or of General Tso’s chicken. The biggest one, however, was racism. I knew it existed, but I thought that it had died with the end of slavery. In China, racism is something that’s really sparse because everyone looks like you. I think in the US was the first time that I realized somebody saw me as different from themselves, and it was something new to experience.”
In what ways do you try to carry out Chinese culture in the US and at FCS?
“When I talk to people I always make sure to say ‘I am Chinese.’ Sometimes people are shocked because I speak English so well, but I always mak
e sure to tell people where I’m from. I also always have my Chinese name on social media. I go by Angela because I was named Angela when I was born, but I try to keep my Chinese name alive.”
How have you felt about Friends’ Central’s approach to hosting Chinese international students?
“I do need to give the school credit in that it has gotten better. When I came there wasn’t much of a program or support. Today it is much better, but it is really hard for the Chinese students like myself to attend school in a place where our culture is so underrepresented. For one, while I know we cannot fully teach Chinese or Asian history, I feel like our history curriculum is rather eurocentric. I often feel that our school creates a stereotype that Asia is something really foreign and ancient that has nothing to do with the current world. Feelings such as these are why events such as the Chinese New Year assembly are so important to [the Chinese international students]. It gives us a moment to demonstrate our culture in a way that we are unable to otherwise. But most importantly, I feel like there are times when teachers and students forget that we are from China, that we are living away from our pare
nts, speaking and learning in a whole new language, and are expected to do as well as the American students without our families’ support. It’s something that’s very hard to do, and I often feel that we don’t receive enough credit for it. I feel like our school is on the right track, but still has a long way to go. I can’t say I have the answer to these issues because I’m still figuring it out myself, but I think if we keep trying we will reach a good point.”
If there were one thing you could tell the future FCS Chinese international students, what would it be?
“I would tell them that they can only go far if they remember where they come from, and that they are all so brave just for being here. I’d also tell them not to be afraid, that at the end of the day, it’s only high school. Its okay to make mistakes.”
What about being Chinese makes you proud?
“I think for me it’s more of a journey of realizing and accepting the fact that I am Chinese and feeling good about it. As for things about China that I am proud of, for one, I’d say the language. I am biased, of course, but I don’t think that there is any language prettier than Chinese. I am also so proud of my country’s culture and history. I love that Chinese culture is the only one still remaining from the four ancient cultures. China is still here and is standing strong, and it makes me feel powerful and as if I am a part of something that is greater than myself.”