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Back-to-School Fruit

August, 2009
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Back-to-School is an intimidating time. It brings about new classes, new teachers, new friends, and a new way of life. One may be entering kindergarten or finishing high school, but during this time period it all feels the same. As students, our state of mind is a jumble of emotions. We’re bewildered, excited, apprehensive, yet we also try to camouflage this under nonchalance.Education Concept

For us international students, the idea of the approaching school year feels daunting and familiar at the same time. Most of us have switched schools or welcomed new students countless times in our academic lives. We have become inured to the ritualistic practices a new school year demands from us, mastering the art of choosing lockers, dodging swinging backpacks, and navigating crowded hallways. However, as my dislike of thinking about school and chats with friends confirm, being a “veteran newbie” still doesn’t stop one from getting jittery about the new school year.
Our concerns are relatively simple – we’re afraid but we don’t know what we’re afraid of. As SAS [Shanghai American School]-Pudong rising-sophomore Kimber Wong puts it, “I’m thinking I don’t know what I expect.” Indeed, there is a foreboding uncertainty in the unknown.
"The only thing I remember about being new was freaking out about getting lost in SAS because it’s so huge,” says SAS-Puxi rising-10th grader, Sharon Hu. For her, a long-time pro at socializing and making acquaintances, not getting lost seems a bigger worry than not having friends.
This feeling is known to all who have been new at some point. I remember an instance in elementary school when, disoriented by the unfamiliarity of the school, I felt too intimidated to ask where the lunchroom was. In the end, I opted to follow the kids in front of me in the hopes that they were headed where I wanted to go. By doing so, I almost unknowingly followed them into the boy’s bathroom. Afterwards I realized that getting lost was not worth the price of staying quiet. Being new or unaccustomed does not mean that one has to stay silent.
Another undisputed fear is of academics. YCIS [Yew Chung International School of Shanghai] rising-year 11 student Kiki Tu says, "Next year is very important for me, because we are taking the IGCSE [International General Certificate of Secondary Education] tests. I feel nervous about it. It is important in determining our future.” Kiki transferred to YCIS in year 7 from a Chinese-based school, and for her the difference in educational systems was quite a shock both culturally and academically. “At first, my English wasn’t good and it was a little hard to communicate,” she admits, “But it was better after I had more friends.”
Fifteen year-old SAS-Puxi student Frances Huang adds, “My major concerns are APUSH [Advanced Placement United States History] and math. I don’t know what these classes will be like.” I myself echo Frances’ sentiments. At SAS, APUSH is notorious for having a heavy homework load, leaving many rising-sophomores and juniors apprehensive about how well they will do.
Naturally, such worries are inevitable, but to ensure a smooth start in the school year as far as academics are concerned there are many things one can do to get organized with classes. Getting organized is the first step to settling fears and working towards success. After returning home from school, taking some time to organize the handouts from each class can significantly help. While I never had to worry about this when I started school years back in elementary school, it has become more crucial now that I’m about to start my sophomore year of high school. Ways to organize may include working out a system for your classes, buying new binders and arranging notebooks. This will make the school year much easier and more enjoyable, as getting the system figured out early on means you won’t have to worry about it for the rest of the year.
An anxiety even more common than academics is making new friends. Often when one is new, the perceived hostility of the other students mixed with shyness can be quite difficult to overcome. Having new friends entails more social activity, yet the idea of possible failure and loneliness is often a great burden to bear. In reality, things are not as bleak as they seem. It’s only a matter of time before a new student is familiar with their peers for friendship to come about.
As we change with age, the process of making friends also changes. When I was younger, having new friends was simply a natural result of playing together. The bond didn’t stem out of anything intellectual but rather just the physical occurrence of playing with a group of other young kids. Back then, friendship could occur between the unlikeliest of people. It didn’t matter how different two people were in terms of personality, appearance, or preference; friendship seemed to be effortless. Yet as I moved to new schools and grew up along the way, I realized that making friends became based more on interests and that sometimes the process took longer than one would like. After all, students – whether matter new or not – all feel the moodiness and angst that come with teen years. Even with this in mind, making friends was not a miserable process for me. With age, I also felt more drawn to those who shared similar interests to mine. The idea of friendship never actually changes, what really happens is that we ourselves change.
Perhaps the ups and downs of making new friends is best summed up by 15 year-old YCIS student Angela Chow, "Being new, of course, can be quite annoying, as we’re not sure of a lot so we may get things wrong, which may lead to getting in trouble or other negative things, but on the other hand, it can be exciting to be new and to make friends, and also you have an excuse for doing something wrong!”
Of course, there is only so much one can do to create a successful transition into the new school year. The rest is simply up to luck and fate. “I feel excited at the start of each school year. It’s like tasting a fruit that you have never seen before,” reflects YCIS rising-year-11 student Anthony Yiu.
Yes indeed, this back-to-school ‘fruit’ remains a mystery for now. Will it be ripe? Will it be rotten? Only time can tell. For now though, best of luck!
By Lucy Wang
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