Intercontinental Immersion

by Qijun “Jackie” Zhong ’18

An international student highlights the progress he’s made stateside over the last four years

I came to CWA in ninth grade from Guangzhou, China, and will graduate this June. The most challenging thing for me definitely was making friends with American students. Besides challenges with language, I had difficulty finding topics to talk about with them. I think the hardest, but most important thing, is to reach out and take the first step. For instance, during cross-country I discovered that by starting a conversation about school with my teammates, running with them, and cheering for them at practices and track meets helped me—and my American classmates—open up to each other.

Some things about American culture surprised me, but some aspects mirror China’s. I was most surprised that people in this community were willing to listen to my ideas, especially when I started writing short stories, which were full of grammatical mistakes. Everyone tried their best to decode my ramblings and give me feedback and support. The difficulty of CWA classes, especially math and science, is not much different from Chinese classes. Most of my friends back in China joke about how easy classes are in American schools, but CWA classes are also challenging. Here, and in my former Chinese school, a sense of friendly competition among students encourages individuals to strive for their best.  

CWA has given me opportunities to explore areas within and beyond academics. Before enrolling, I had little interest in or knowledge about theater, baseball, and script writing. While I was greatly encouraged by my friends and host to try new things, I also appreciate how willing others were to teach, help, and encourage me. Becoming involved in all of these activities helped me make more friends and learn teamwork.

Now, as a senior, I enjoy mentoring younger students. At times, one can learn only from one’s own experience, but I am a resource for the younger kids. As an international student who has been away from home for almost four years, I understand their feelings and want to support them as they grow in this less familiar environment.  

A major highlight of my experience at CWA is the Narcisse family, with whom I’ve lived for all four years. I never expected to build such a close relationship with my host family. When I first arrived, I thought of them like the owners of a hotel, and I rarely left my bedroom unless it was lunchtime or dinnertime. But my host family made a great effort to introduce me to their friends and to American culture, like taking me to baseball games and their friends’ houses. After my host sister, Aliyah ’16, left for college, I again became the “only child” of the house, as I had been in China, and that brought more responsibility to help clean the house and take care of myself. I also found myself becoming more open to my host parents in sharing my school life and my short stories and poems.

To be honest, sometimes I don’t even want to think about what will happen after graduation—I will move out from this house where I’ve spent four years. I will miss my hosts’ dog, Bumpy, who follows me all day long and waits for me to pet him. I will miss my hosts, from whom I have learned so many precious lessons. But what I will miss most will be the sense of just physically being in this house with people who love me and whom I love deeply from my heart. The bond between us will never change, and I know I always will belong to this family. They joke that I am Jackie Narcisse. My parents and I consider the Narcisses our family. My mother has become an international parent ambassador for Chinese parents whose children are considering applying to CWA.   

My advice to new Tarriers is to explore what you are passionate about. American schools provide far more resources than those in China, and one should reach out for them and to the people who share similar interests. If you don’t have something you are passionate about yet, go find it! Try new activities! Both short and long term, your life will be immensely more enjoyable. //   

Jackie was admitted early decision to his first-choice college, New York University.

Learn More About Charles Wright Academy