Child of China: Yichen Dong’s Experience as a Foreign Exchange Student

Holly Dayton

By Lens Section Editor Holly Dayton ‘13

Senior Yichen Dong was born and grew up in Beijing where she attended a normal Chinese lower and middle school. As she grew older, her parents decided Yichen would attend college in America (in the interview Dong commented that going to college in America is fairly common for those Chinese students who live in cities, but that it is far less

common for those who live in the countryside). Furthermore her parents decided that going to high school in America would prepare Yichen even more for her university years. Dong was originally opposed to the idea, as she said, “I had many friends in Beijing, I didn’t want to leave them and go where I didn’t know anyone.” Nonetheless, Dong came to live with a host family in the summer of 2007 and started at CCDS in August.

Her initial experience at CCDS was somewhat frustrating because though her school in China had taught English as a second language from first grade, conversational English proved far more difficult to understand. Dong also found that the students talked far faster than she was expecting and that the spoken relationship between teachers and students was more casual than she was accustomed to; in every way the language barrier presented problems. “I had traveled around the world before, to Europe and Australia, but I’ve discovered that there is a big difference between living somewhere and visiting there,” said Dong. Math was the only easy class of her freshman year because, as Dong said, “Math is numbers, and numbers are numbers in every language.”

Now that she has been here for four years, the biggest challenge with language she faces is French, not only because the course is taught to a class of English-speakers but because French, like English, is just so very different from Chinese. The hardest thing about living in America for Dong is that the rest of her family is in China, thousands of miles of land and ocean away. “I go back winter break, spring break; all of the breaks!” said Dong, “but I still miss them during the year.”

In retrospect, Dong is very glad she came not only to the United States for high school but to CCDS specifically. “I feel so much more prepared for college going to CCD,” said Dong. Dong said she felt slightly isolated when she first came because there were few other foreign exchange students, but she has come to view this as an advantage. “I really made friends with the natives because there weren’t other Chinese people to hang out with,” said Dong. This way, Dong had a more normal American high school experience by spending her time with American teenagers instead of other exchange students. Dong’s biggest take away from the entire CCDS experience is an added confidence in herself, a confidence Dong said she is certain “will help me college and beyond.” Dong will be attending Cornell University this fall.