By Clara Spars

From starting clubs to joining sports teams to running for SLC positions, Sonoma Academy’s international students are all adapting to campus life with enthusiasm and success.

This year, we have sixteen international students attending SA, fifteen of whom from cities across China. During the past quarter, SA students in the International Student Mentor exploratory not only became familiar with these students, but also got to know more about the distinct cultures that they came from, while teaching them about life in America at the same time.

“There were a lot of great discussions about the differences in culture especially with idioms and how they can be misinterpreted. When the mentors talked about ways to maintain American friends, the class was buzzing with ideas and I felt a real connection between mentors and mentees and I felt that the SA students really wanted to help the new students integrate,” said Learning Strategist Margie Pugh about the exploratory.
Throughout the year, as the mentors were taught about the many traditions that are carried out in China during the Spring Festival in February, the nine new exchange students learned about the excitement of carving pumpkins and picking out costumes for Halloween.
Together, many moon-cakes, candy, and laughs were shared.

On top of all the fun that was had playing traditional Chinese and American games during the exploratory, the mentors and mentees also spent time getting to know one another outside of school. Bowling-and-Burgers-Night was just one of many adventures.

Together, the entire group made their way to Double Decker Lanes in Rohnert
Park where they were thrilled to immerse themselves in some friendly competition, and what better way to do so than at a bowling alley? After working up an appetite, the students ate burgers and drank milkshakes at a nearby In-N-Out and took group pictures.

On a later weekend, the group headed up to San Francisco where they visited Chinatown, and make the exhilarating trek across the Golden Gate Bridge. Of course, there are many more exciting trips to come.

Pairs of mentors and mentees were also asked to research and give presentations about individual aspects of life in America and China comparatively. These included music, television, clothing, and social norms. The similarities between the two cultures were as surprising as the differences, and students bonded over the personal interests that they had in common in addition to the cultural discoveries they were making.

Senior Clay Howard says about his mentee, freshman Ryan Tao, “Ry-Dog is the coolest person I’ve ever met. Not only is he really into music, but he also has a great sense of humor.” The two frequently have lunch together and are constantly seen high-fiving in the hallways. This is true for many of the mentor-mentee pairs; they are consistently connecting over common interests and learning more about each other’s lifestyles.

Because of these subtle steps in their relationships, their friendships are slowly expanding to outside of school as well. Rather than only spending time together during the exploratory or greeting each other in passing, the students are organizing times during the weekends in which they meet up and hang out.

Margie Pugh says, “I was so proud of the American students and I really felt their genuine care for their partners and that made me feel that the program was successful.”

While the purpose of the program was to help the exchange students accommodate and adapt to their new lives in America, it seems that the result went above and beyond what was expected. Instead of simply adjusting, the students are thriving and accelerating academically and socially.