Senior Tina Huang (left) and junior John Fan eat dinner at the Hayes family household. Fan has been living here for the past few months, and Huang just moved in a month before. (Photo by Arijit Trivedi)

International students return from abroad

After spending the 2020-21 year studying from abroad, several international Country Day students returned to Sacramento to attend in-person classes. 

Two of the students, junior Minh Dang and senior Daisy Zhou took Country Day classes remotely last year, while two others, juniors John Fan and new student Ryan Paul, attended international schools.

Head of High School Brooke Wells said that five high schoolers on student visas  have returned to campus, although one student who was unable to return after studying remotely last year left the school.

If Dang had one word to describe her experience as an international student last year, it would be “stressful.”

She said the experience was difficult, and she had to spend time Googling concepts to catch up to her classes. She studied asynchronously due to the 14-hour time difference between Country Day and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, where she was living. 

She took tests on Zoom for each class at around 6 p.m. or 7 p.m. Sacramento time. This was morning in Ho Chi Minh City, so the arrangement was possible.

However, it was still a strain on Dang. She could only keep up with friends through text messages, which was complicated due to the time difference.

“When I texted, they were sleeping, and I waited until they woke up and replied,” she said. “To have a conversation sometimes took us several days.”

Another issue was the language barrier, which Dang compared to being in a foreign language class.

“You understand this part and you don’t understand that part,” she said. “You have to guess about the meaning sometimes.”

Although she was able to get used to it, studying in English was difficult at first.

The extra work she needed to do also affected her sleep schedule.

“Because I tried hard to study a lot, I woke up earlier,” Dang said. She also had to stay up later in order to catch up with all of her work.

Sleep loss was also a problem for Country Day senior Daisy Zhou, who spent the 2020-21 school year in her hometown of Chengdu, China.

“I stayed in my room mostly every day doing my work, but for some of my tests, I had to stay up at night,” she said.

Like Dang, Zhou kept up with her schoolwork asynchronously. She said the language barrier didn’t affect her much, as it was comparable to being on campus.

In order to follow their classes, Zhou and Dang watched recordings of the synchronous meetings. 

Head of College Counseling and English teacher Jane Bauman recorded her classes last year.

“I had one international student in my English class, and I was able to record my classes on Zoom and post those classes on my CavNET,” she said. That student, Zhou, could then download and watch the recordings as needed.

Bauman’s English class did not have major synchronous assessments, so coordinating with students abroad was not difficult, she said.

“Everybody was on Zoom,  so everything was open book and open note,” she said. “On CavNET you can set the time for a test or an assessment, and we just had to use the honor system.” 

The only change she had to make was adjusting how long quizzes were left open on CavNET so that the time zones matched up.

Zhou said these asynchronous techniques for classes had some benefits.

“I could arrange my time more freely because (for) something that I didn’t need to study; I didn’t watch the recordings.” 

This flexibility also let her spend time with her family, traveling with them or going on walks with her mother. In the winter, she stayed in Sanya, China, because of the warmer weather.

Still, Zhou is happy to be back in Sacramento. She had to test negative for COVID-19 before boarding her flight and self-quarantine for seven days upon arrival in August.

“My host family is really warm and they prepared everything for me,” Zhou said. She  is staying with Country Day parent Renee Stern and her family. “They changed the carpet in my room and they bought me a new duvet cover. This little stuff helped me to go back into this situation.”

Not having to go through the process of introducing herself again was also a positive.

“The teachers still remember me, and my classmates still remember me, so that’s nice,” she said. 

Zhou is looking forward to applying to college this school year and eventually attending a college in the U.S. 

Dang, who returned from Vietnam this August, is excited to attend classes in person.

“Oh my god, I’m so happy,” she said. “I feel better when I go to school.”

While she has tentative plans to return to Vietnam for winter break, she hopes to spend time in Sacramento with friends and continue going to classes in person.

She currently stays with host family Robin and Chauncey Hayes.

 Junior John Fan, who took a year off from Country Day due to the pandemic, is also looking forward to being on campus. He was previously a junior in the 2019-2020 school year, but he and his parents wanted to avoid online learning. 

While he was in China, he took some classes at a school in person in Shenzhen.

“It felt super different,” he said. “Brand new friends, brand new atmosphere.”

He found that there were significant differences between the curriculum in China and the U.S.

“The pace that they teach us is actually super fast, so sometimes you don’t understand the materials very well,” Fan said of his school in China.

 He studied microeconomics and computer science over the last year. and said it was a brand new experience.

“We went to the National Economics Competition, and I won two prizes,” he said.

In China, Fan said studying economics is more common than at Country Day, where it is only offered as an Advanced Placement course.

“I like it so much because I’m fascinated with the economy,” he said.

Even though Fan wasn’t attending Country Day, he was still able to keep in touch with friends from Country Day, including senior Jesus Aispuro.

“In China, the only way that you can talk to your foreigner friends is by email, so I was emailing all my friends,” he said.

The transition back to Sacramento has been easy, Fan said. The more relaxed pace of classes at Country Day compared to his school in Shenzhen has allowed him to understand more of what’s being taught, and he’s been able to connect with his friends.

“Every time when I come back from China, I need a month to get along with English as the main language,” he said. “I have certain problems with grammar or pronunciation when I’m talking to someone, so I have to get used to it.”

Despite this issue, he’s excited to spend a year on campus in person.

“This year feels good,” he said. “I feel good to be back.”

Junior Ryan Paul, who previously attended National Prep School International in Singapore, said his transition into Country Day has been seamless.

“On the first day itself, everyone took me in like I was going to be their friend forever,” Paul said. “It’s pretty nice to see that people showed me the ropes into the school.”

He’s no stranger to moving between countries. He has previously lived in the United States, India and Singapore.

His school last year was able to operate in-person due to Singapore’s stringent COVID-19 rules, so adapting to the new campus has not been difficult, Paul said. He is also grateful that he has not had any issues with changes in language or culture.However, there have been some differences with courses. His school in Singapore used the International Baccalaureate system, while Country Day uses AP.

“Khan Academy has really helped me with adapting to my courses,” he said. “But I feel like some of the courses continue what I learned in Singapore.”

Overall, he’s excited to stay in Sacramento and for the upcoming year. 

— By Samhita Kumar

Originally published in the Oct. 23 edition of the Octagon.

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