Former LHS student thriving in China

Junior Zelda Offerman dances during a school event at her school, Beijing High School No. 80, in Beijing, China. She is studying for nine months there.

Nearly three months into the experience, former Lincoln student Zelda Offerman is currently studying in China, enjoying a well-earned once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

During middle school, Offerman had a strong passion to study abroad. She turned this idea into reality starting in 8th grade, when she took part in a smaller exchange program to Costa Rica. Shortly after her return, Offerman yearned to study abroad again her freshman year in China, before returning to Lincoln later that year.

Offerman had previously studied Chinese and Spanish in school, therefore the majority languages of these two countries were not a problem for her.

“She’s always been very academically talented,” says Felix Benz, one of Offerman’s close friends. “She has a lot of skill when it comes to retaining and analyzing information, [like languages].”

Her brief freshman experience studying in China solidified her later decision to return to China her junior year. Unlike last time, she would be in Beijing, China for nine months. After hours of research, she found the program NSLI-Y (National Security Language Initiative Program for Youth), a part of the U.S. government initiative that promotes Americans to have the linguistic skills and cultural knowledge to promote international dialogue and support American travel abroad. This program provides scholarships to high school students for either an academic year of nine months or a summer program for six weeks.

“I felt like it fit all the things I was looking to do in a study abroad program, so I applied,” reflects Offerman. This time she would be in China for nine months.

Before arriving in China, Offerman knew that she was being given a rare opportunity to fully immerse herself into Chinese culture, and she wanted to get the most out of it. Her goals were to see an exponential growth in her Chinese speaking/writing, create strong bonds with the people she would get to meet, and lastly, to gain a grasp of the culture.

By the end she hopes to leave China saying, “I spent the year challenging myself to learn and grow and see the world from a very different perspective than I did back in the US.”

Even though there are differences, according to Offerman, her life in China isn’t all that different from the U.S. “I’m still a high school student that likes to go out with friends on weekends and explore the city, and people still stress about school and tests,” says Offerman.

Despite striking similarities, there are obvious differences in the way of life and culture that Offerman has noticed.

“Among teenagers I’ve noticed a much greater respect for both authority figures and rules in general,” says Offerman

Another noticeable difference is the concept of space.

“If you’re waiting in line, you wait very close to the person in front of you, or people will assume that you aren’t waiting line and cut you,” says Offerman. There also are some smaller differences such as lack of clothes dryers.

In terms of school life, it is much different. Students are to be in the classroom at 7:15 a.m. and the typical day goes through 5:05 p.m. There are eight classes per day, each of 45 minutes. The breaks in between are much longer, as well as an hour and a half lunch break.

Following the school day, the students are required to take part in what is called “self study” from 7:00 to 9:20 p.m. Offerman is an international student, which means she is given the privilege to study in her dorm. The Chinese students are required to study under the supervision of a teacher in their classrooms, with no phones allowed.

Even though the Chinese teachers may be rigid, they are nothing like American stereotypes of Chinese teachers.

“While they are very demanding, and push us, they care very deeply about our success as their students,” says Offerman. “They are also very warm and caring about how we’re doing. For example I came to school with a sore throat and my head teacher made me tea with a traditional Chinese herb to help with sore throats.”

A few months into her experience, Offerman has settled in comfortably.

“I know the neighborhood around my school, feel completely comfortable taking the subway, and using Gaode (the Chinese Google Maps),” says Offerman. “I’ve also bonded with the other kids in my class, and am super close to my host sister. China continues to become less and less of a ‘foreign’ country everyday.”

Zelda’s parents, Tom and Michelle Reeves, see a lot of positive influence to their daughter’s life through the exchange program, “Being dropped in a completely new environment where you don’t understand anything about how your day-to-day life actually works has an impact on you,” says Reeves. “It’s a trial by fire, and it brings more confidence and improves your ability to roll with the punches.”

Offerman has advice to give to any future Lincoln students who want to study abroad. She strongly recommends going on shorter exchange first to get a feel for being alone in a new environment. Secondly, she suggests that the student deeply research programs in which they are interested before making the decision on one. Lastly, students should examine why they are doing it, and why it interests them. If all these things align, then Offerman says one should not hesitate to try it out.

“It’s a super amazing experience, and it’s rare to be able to experience a culture from the inside rather than as a tourist.

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