By Sydney Weil

For years now, students have come from all around the world to study at Sonoma Academy. There are currently eight international students, seven of whom are from China and one who is from Switzerland. For some, this is their first year studying at SA or even in the US, but for others, this is their third or fourth year.

Of the eight students, four (Edward Jiang, YingYing Li, Peter Li, and Anna Lea Leutenegger) are sophomores, three (Eric Liang, Colvin Lin, and Linda Jiang) are juniors, and one (Wenya Yang) is a senior.

The international students still stick to the rigorous curriculum of Sonoma Academy, but additional support systems have been put in place to help them get used to the different expectations.

“There is a tutorial program in place to help them [the students] academically, as well as an exploratory for the first semester that provides them with cultural and historical information of the U.S., and that of their school community,” said Suzanna Luttrell, an English as a Second Language (ESL) instructor who works closely with the international students. “Socially, there is a mentor program in place where SA students are paired with international students, and they work on projects together, share their time on campus together, and go on field trips together.”

This is the first year the International Student Mentor program has been in place. Students applied to be mentors last spring, and those who were chosen were each paired with an international student before the 2013-14 school year began.

“The mentors came to the international student orientation and got to know their mentees,” said Margie Pugh, SA Learning Strategist and head of the international student programs. “They also participated in an exploratory where they learned about Chinese culture, created a video with their mentees and planned after-school culture experiences.”

So far, the mentors and mentees have gone on two very successful outings: one to go bowling and eat at In-N-Out Burger and the other to go to San Francisco for a day of dim sum and walking around the city.

Senior KT Buckler, who is the director of the International Student Mentors and the mentor to junior Linda Jiang, said that she joined the program “because I wanted to learn about a culture and country that I didn’t know a lot about…and I felt like this would be an incredible experience (which it has been!)…Even though we’re considered their ‘mentors,’ I’m learning just as much from them as they’re learning from me.”

Most of the students are here without their parents, so they are placed with a host family, with whom they will live during the school year.

“We had a host parent evening…to support families and their students,” said Margie. “It was a wonderful evening of sharing stories and affirming experiences with their international students.”
Several SA students are members of families hosting international students this year, and they seem to be having an interesting experience so far.

Freshman Gabe Grady, whose family is hosting sophomore Peter Li this year, said that it’s been “just like having another bro…I expected it to change my daily life more but it’s pretty much the same as it was before.”

Sophomore Quinn Sheridan, whose family is hosting sophomore YingYing Li, said, “It has been more work but it can be fun…It is like you have another sibling but you can’t fight or get mad at them…I figured it [hosting] would mean a little more work and a little less freedom but a good cultural exchange and that’s about how it ended up.”

The students themselves come from all over China as well as Zurich, Switzerland. They came for a variety of reasons, but they all seem to come to a consensus on one thing: it’s been a really great experience.

Sophomore YingYing Li said that, “Living in a host family [is] just like living at home, we like chatting about different culture[s] and watching the TV or [a] movie together.”

When asked about the differences between China and the U.S., senior Wenya Yang said, “We have more time [to] communicate with teachers here; [there is] less homework but more work for college application[s].”

Wenya also said that living with a host family has helped her to realize, “that home is the best. Although I like my family, it takes [a] long time for us to learn each others’ habits.”

In the end, though, they all seem to be enjoying their time here.

“My favorite [thing] is [that] almost [all] people are friendly,” said sophomore Peter Li.

And, according to Wenya, “SA is the best.”