Students adjust to life in new country

Moving to a new country as a teen might normally be a stressful experience, but for freshman Benson Lyu and other students from China, moving to Portland has felt like a sigh of relief.


Adjusting to a new social climate, speaking a second language in the classroom and navigating a new school schedule are all challenges faced by these students. But overall, school here is less stressful than in China.


“We went to school at eight and it ended at six. It was really stressful. Every day you had eight periods… and for each class, you might have ten pages of some practice. Each class could have between thirty minutes to an hour of homework,” says Lyu, who went to the top middle school in his district.


Teachers also contributed to his stress in China.


“Teachers here are much friendlier than back in China…The teacher would be really stressful. For example, one time a kid in our math class looked sleepy, and our teacher told him to stand at the front of the classroom to keep him awake … it was pretty awkward.”


In fact, Lyu says that stress was one of the main reasons he moved to the United States.


“It was too stressful back in China, I slept every day really late and it was really bad for my health. That was my first reason,” he says.


“When I first moved here I was kind of afraid of having a conversation with other students and teachers,” Benson says. “It took over a month before I was able to use English to talk to other students.”


Using English remains a challenge not only in conversation but in the classroom.


“Language is their biggest struggle. Because they’re not only learning English, they’re learning to use English to learn, to learn chemistry, to learn history…. Writing an essay is also hard for them,” says Marie Meyer, Lincoln High School Mandarin teacher.


Meyer says having a friend can make the transition much easier. She pairs older, more experienced native Chinese students with newcomers to help them transition into Lincoln. She estimates that there are around ten native Chinese students currently at Lincoln. According to a study by the Institute of International Education (IIE), a nonprofit promoting international exchange, Chinese students make up 2 in 5 of the 81,981 international students enrolled in US high schools.


Benson also came to the United States to improve his English.


“My English has improved a lot. It’s just a different environment… Your friends speak English, your teachers speak English, and you have to learn in English,” he said.


Overall, he’s enjoyed meeting new people and the low-stress learning environment at Lincoln.


“Some students will actually have a conversation with me with some easy vocabulary…I feel like I’ve been welcomed.”