What’s it like coming from a different country and adjusting to American culture?

Jessica Lin, Staff-Writer

  Martin Hu is a senior.  He came from China in seventh grade and since then has joined crew and band.  Coming from a private elementary school, he made big adjustments when coming to America.  

  Junior Dylan Wang came from China in ninth grade, plays basketball and is a current officer of Woodson’s Chinese Student Association (CSA).  

  Sebastian Lopez, a junior, is returning to Fairfax after almost a decade.  He has moved a few times, but the move from Colombia back called for more re-adjusting to a new environment as a teen.  He describes a significant cultural difference and has a new perspective as he comes back to Virginia.  

  Different environments in school and culture can make it hard to fit in and adjust.  However, the change gives them perspectives centered more around the school environment as opposed to academic challenges.  Here we highlight the observations of Hu, Wang and Lopez attending Woodson. Their different outlooks converge in their teen experience in high school.  

Traffic rush in Bogota, Colombia.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com                            Traffic rush in Bogota, Colombia

  Time management is always stressed as you reach a new level in life whether it is advancing to middle school, high school, college, or work.  As students, school and academic work take up the majority of our day.  Students in FCPS may go home to relax and start homework, go out with friends for bubble tea, stay at school for clubs, or rush off to various extracurriculars.  For different reasons, the experiences in both China and Colombia were drastically different.  

  There is also a theme of individual vs. group that calls for adjustment when coming toFairfax County.  A lot of individuality and uniqueness is what many Americans strive for in college applications.  However, college acceptance in China is based mainly on grades.  Preparing for a standardized test that would determine what college you were accepted to was the biggest thing for high school students in China.  

  Wang remembers waking up to go to school at 7 in the morning.  They would have academic classes and P.E. , a total of nine classes everyday until 6p.m.  Afterwards, he ran laps around his school before returning to class for a mandatory two hour study session held for all students.  Compared to the variety of different after school activities and extracurriculars American students often take, China put a lot more emphasis on studying and getting good grades for the ultimate goal of college.  

  In the capital of Colombia, Lopez says it was common to be stuck in traffic for two hours after school.  While it wasn’t fun, homework had to get done in the car.  

Picture courtesy of Pixabay.com                                                           School field in China, used for attendance and exercise


  With the start of a new school year also comes the excitement of seeing old friends, meeting new people, and getting to know teachers.  In other countries, in some ways there is a simpler start.  In both China and Colombia, the class students are placed in are their classmates for all their years at that school, whether it is elementary or middle school or high school.  Hu and Wang expressed similar feelings when they came to America with different classmates in every class.  Hu recalled former classmates from China saying, “You do everything together and become really close.”  


  Lopez sighed and said “It’s hard to get close friends in America, you know it will end in either the shift from elementary school to middle school to high school and then college.  I went to the same school my dad went to.  That’s why when I came back to this neighborhood to visit I was surprised to see there were new neighbors every time.”

  Aside from school, there are also cultural aspects that are missing.  Hu lifts his eyes deep in thought and recalls the physical bustle of preparing for Chinese New Year.  The excitement felt from the young and old in a festive holiday with tons of food and smells wafting from homes in the cold months of Winter.  

  The winter break of China covers the Chinese New Year period around January/February, depending on where the lunar calendar date falls on the solar calendar each year.  The days of the New Year’s festival would be filled with families gathered around wrapping dumplings, eating hotpot, hanging up paper cuttings, and receiving money in red envelopes.  This is a time of year where families would all wear new clothes and watch New Year singing, dancing, and skits on TV together.  

  Now, Hu and Wang adjust to celebrating New years more around the solar calendar instead of the Chinese New Year as there is no holiday or cultural observance.  There is a Chinese phrase used often to describe the way many overseas Chinese feel the ache of homesickness with the passing of traditional Chinese holiday, “每逢佳节倍思亲” (mei feng jia jie bei si qing). 

  Another difference is in the mindset of students preparing for college.  Compared to America’s college application essays, China is a lot more uniform in studying for a standardized test for college applications.  As a result, China has students focus intensely on the test while America’s direction might be more focused on the individuality one can show through extracurriculars in their essays.  

  School spirit in America is often seen in sports such as school wide football games, homecoming dances, or spirit days such as pj day.  When it comes to Chinese school spirit days, because individual classes did not change, field days or days dedicated to different sports events would be a competition between classes, teachers and grade level.  Hu remembers lining up to come into the gym by class and grade. “It felt like the mini Olympics.”

  A common perspective shared among the interviewees was that America had touchier subjects that they felt people avoided. Such topics, potentially religion and politics, are quite related to the government.  Due to America’s two party system, what is considered left or right, democratic or republic have shifted over time and created a very polarized scale.