International Boarding: Adapting to Life in the U.S.

International Boarding: A New Life


Zara at the Homecoming bonfire with fellow seniors Joe Ballou and Walker Nighbert.

Before I went to school as an international student at San Marcos Academy, I had never gone to a school far away from my house. I have been to many different places in China and other countries in the world, but I had gone to those places with my parents. The only time I had lived by myself without my parents was when I went on my elementary school’s summer exchange program to Australia. We went there for fifteen days for school. During that time, we lived in a home stay with the classmates we met in the school.

My parents chose to send me to an American school when I was 12 years old. This is earlier than many international students leave home. I came to SMA as a seventh grader, and for me, everything was different. The people were different, the environment was different, the food was different, and even the school system was different. I had never been away from my parents before, and I became one of the youngest boarding student in the school. I did not know how to live by myself, and I had to learn to become independent. This was the first time for me to interact with many people who were not Asian.

Back home, the teachers separate students in the same grade into several classes. We usually refer to we are from the class number and the grade level. For example, I was in Class 3, Grade 6 when I was in my elementary school. The students at my old school stayed in the same room all the time, and the teachers switched themselves class by class. But here in America, teachers have their own rooms and the students go to different classrooms class by class.

International Boarding: Learning the Language

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Zara and some other international students enjoy their Senior Retreat in September.

Although I had some English skill, it was still very little compared to what I needed. I was afraid during that period of time, but I told myself that I should try to improve my English. I was extremely nervous when I talked to others. Consequently, I did not raise my hand during classes even though I knew the answers because I did not want to sound funny. I knew I could not pronounce a lot of words. Little by little, however, I started to speak slowly to others, and everyone was kind to me, paid attention to me and was full of patience with me.

I did not have good grades in my first semester at school because of my English and the completely different school system. I tried to improve my English as I was adapting myself to America. By the end of the second semester, I had all A’s , and I was delighted. I tried to talk to our dorm staff often to improve my English. I asked them to spell the words out for me and to translate when they spoke some words I did not know. Then I collected these words, and I tried to remember those words.

The dorm staff helped me with not only the language but also with life skills. They let me felt sad when I was homesick, they taught me how to do laundry when I first came into the dorm, and they introduced me to many friends when they saw me alone. At the time I came, I did not know how to do any of the housework. I did not know how to cook myself even the simplest ramen noodles for a snack. The dorm staffs introduced me some of the senior international girls to lead me in the school and help me if I had any problems.

International Boarding: Experience of a Lifetime

Now, I have fully adapted and will graduate in the spring. I appreciate everyone who  helped me during my first year in America; I still can remember the names of all the teachers, staff, students and faculty. The experience of going to school abroad and being a young international boarding student taught me the most significant skills I have in my life, and this experience will truly help me in the future forever.

–By Zara Gao, SMA Class of 2019 (Editor’s Note: This is the second article Zara has contributed to the Academy’s blog; her first was about the experience of being bilingual. Zara is planning to pursue a career in communications as she continues her education in the United States. )