Living across the world

By Kenny Kiratli

Kenny Kiratli ('17) attends Northwestern University.

Posted: April 9, 2015

Foreign students are forced to face the challenges of studying abroad

“It’s hard sometimes, here in America,” said Jimmy Woo, a sophomore at Minnehaha, “I miss my friends and family.”

Jimmy, now standing 15 feet or so away from a basketball hoop, looks up, sets and shoots. The brown rugged ball, spinning ideally as it flies through the air, enters the basket, a crisp swoosh accompanies a slight grin on his face.

He trots over to the landing of the ball, and swoops it up in his arms. Beginning to dribble, Jimmy elegantly bounces the ball through his legs and behind his back. Wearing an Adidas tee shirt depicting Lebron James and basketball shoes, he rises for another shot; however, this time the arc bounces off the rim to the left and the ball trickles away. He does not appear disappointed, but rather, wistful.

“Basketball is something I can play no matter where I am, in China or America.”

Jimmy’s home is 7473 miles away, in Hong Kong. He studies abroad here in America, in hope of receiving a better education, and, in turn, to be readily prepared for the future. Leaving the Chinese educational system is not uncommon, and Minnehaha sees a number of international students a year.

The decision to leave home and study and live in the US, however, is not always unanimous.

“Coming to study in America was my father’s decision,” said Jimmy, with a deflated sigh. “I have no choice.”

The process of studying, let alone vacationing, in foreign countries can be complicated. As a result, organizations and agents work with international students and families to explore their best options. Echelon Educational Services is a Hastings, MN based organization assisting international students that hope to study in America.

“There are students who contact Minnehaha Academy directly, wanting to attend, and if the student holds a foreign passport, they are then considered an international student,” said Jody Antoni’ou, agent at Echelon. “Minnehaha requires that they go through an agency and Minnehaha will pass that students name along to the admissions director to me at Echelon. Then I’ll contact that student directly and we assist with admissions and we submit the students required forms to Minnehaha, then help to prepare them for an interview.”

Antoni’ou also added, “We find them a host family, provide their insurance, set up their transportation, and pay for their school lunches.”

In admission to Minnehaha, Principal Nancy Johnson works with administration to oversee international applications. “The students follow the same process as every other student, except for one thing: to figure out what their knowledge of the English language is,” said Johnson.

“There are several different instruments in determining language competency.”

“The whole purpose of having a diverse student body is because that’s one of the ways we learn better,” added Johnson.

The week of finals, Jimmy was nervous. His worry, however, was different than many others’.

“I have to do well on my finals,” said Jimmy, gritting his teeth a bit. “Otherwise, my father will make me study for hours each day during [Christmas] break.”

He hoped that his short, two-week time in China would be spent with friends, not with books and equations.

In Minneapolis, seemingly so far from familiarity, Jimmy lives with his aunt an uncle, in an apartment above a family-owned restaurant.

“My uncle is always gone, and my aunt spends almost all of her time in the restaurant, or out with her friends. I get most of my food brought up from [the restaurant], but I’m alone almost all of the time.”

Jimmy has a tutor to help with homework, but his life does not solely revolve around his study.

“Basketball is my favorite sport, and my favorite thing to do,” said Jimmy, gleaming with interest.

He plays basketball for Minnehaha and at Lifetime Fitness, where a personal trainer helps to improve both his physical health and basketball skills.

Being physically active is important to Jimmy, but it has not always been easy. His brother is a Harvard graduate, and now lives in New York City.

“He would always say to me ‘Go read and study, sports are pointless.'”  Looking down at his shoes, Jimmy thinks back on the lack of encouragement.

However, in almost an instant, he gathered his thoughts and a look of pride shone on his face, “I’m not like my brother, I like to run and play basketball. I like to have friends. My brother just studied and studied and read and read, but I’m not like that at all. I just wish my father could see that and understand.”

Not all tales of foreign study begin with conflict like Jimmy’s. Some Chinese students studying abroad are in America for very different reasons, and their outlooks are also close to opposite.

“I chose to come to America to study,” said Tony Yan, a junior at Minnehaha. “The opportunities are very different [here] than in China.”

The American high school education system is indeed very different to that of China. In China, each high schooler (unless under special circumstances) is required to take the National Higher Education Entrance Examination. It is taken in the last year of high school and is a mandatory and essential test for admittance into Chinese universities.

Students spend years studying for this single exam, as it is the only factor to determine college entrance. The weight of this test is immense and rather indescribable, as one’s entire schooling and intelligence is boiled down to a single, standardized test-like exam.

“The [NHEEE] is one of the main reasons I decided to study here in America. It just doesn’t make sense. Students will study for years for this one exam, and if [you] don’t do well…” said Tony, thinking of the sheer weight of the test.

“Your entire life of studying [rests] on this test, there’s so much pressure.”

In contrast, the American educational systems focus more so on the entirety of an individual–including extracurriculars and volunteering involvement.

At Minnehaha, Tony is a member of the debate team, and is forced to speak often and continuously in his second language, English.

But of course, Tony is not 100% immersed in American culture; he splits his time on social media bilingually–Facebook is strictly in English, and for following and conversing with American friends; it is not allowed in China. To keep up with friends from back home, he uses the social media app WeChat, known as Wexin in China.

His name, Tony, is one given to him in 6th grade by an English teacher–similar to one given in a foreign language class to students at Minnehaha.

“The name Tony has been with me for years even before I came to America. [It was fitting] for me to keep the name here in America,” explained Tony.

His birth given name is Junfeng, but Tony is easier for those at Minnehaha.

Both Jimmy and Tony have different outlooks on their time–past, present, and future–in America, and they each have unique aspirations.

“I want to go to the Engineering school at UCLA,” said Jimmy. “I like math, I did well in that section on my ACT.” Jimmy did, in fact, take the ACT this fall, as a sophomore. “It was my family’s plan for me to take the test this year. Maybe I will take it again; I might keep my score.”

Tony isn’t quite set on a college, nor has he laid a concrete career path for himself.

“I’m not exactly sure what I want to [do]. One thing is for sure to be accepted into a good American university. I will see what I want to do then,” he said. “My grandpa was in school to be an engineer years ago, but was forced to work in the mines of China. Studying in America will give me a chance to do what I want; it’s a lot more relaxed.”

Many times, being away from home hits Jimmy in full effect.

“I just want to go home and be with all of my friends. People in Hong Kong are so different than everyone thinks. They’re outgoing and  so fun to be around,” he said, becoming frustrated.

But just as he began to succumb to the thought of his home being thousands of  miles away, deep thought immersed him.

“I guess that I get why I’m in America, studying. It is good for me. It does not matter if it was my father’s decision. I’m here, and I will be here.”

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