Your First Day of High School in the United States

Written By Carrie Hou

Young video bloggers throughout Latin America who studied abroad at a high school  in the United States are sharing their international experiences with others via YouTube and other social media.  One of the most popular themes is the first day of high school.  If you’ve watched some of these videos and you are considering studying abroad, you might think twice about your decision because these students usually do not paint a very attractive picture of the first day of school.  

Sofia Castro, a very popular video blogger from Colombia with almost five million subscribers to her YouTube channel, said in one of her videos that she felt “horrible,horrible, horrible” because when she arrived to her school she felt very alone.  “No one came and talked with me,” said Sofia who arrived to her school with limited English ability.  “I was expecting a lot of students would be able to speak Spanish,” she said.  Sophia learned quickly that was not the case.  Most American students do not speak Spanish as  a second language unless they were born or raised in a Spanish-speaking country or their parents are from a Spanish-speaking country.  Almost all of the students at the high school where Sophia attended were born and raised in the United States with families who spoke only English.  If your high school is located in a less urban part of the United States, this will probably be the norm.  Fortunately, Sofia was able to study in a special English as a second language program at her high school.  As her English ability improved she was able to make friends with American students, but it was not easy for her in the beginning.

Emi Arvelo, a YouTube blogger from Venezuela, talks about when she arrived to her new school expecting that it would be like some of the American movies she had watched, such as “Mean Girls” or “High School Musical.”  She was looking for the handsome, muscular athlete, the cheerleader and popular girl groups. It was nothing like that said Emi.  Instead, Emi found it was very difficult to generalize about the students she saw because they were all very different.  Emi mentions in her video that she felt the American students were not as open and friendly to newcomers as the students in Venezuela where she said it’s possible to make new friends rapidly.  Emi, like Sofia, arrived at her school with limited English so she was unable to make friends with American students easily until she has improved her English in a special English program for international students.  

So what can we learn from Sofia and Emi about their first day of high school in the United States?

First of all, their experience is very similar to many other international students who study in the United States, especially if they have limited English ability.  However, the difficulties they have making new friends on the first day of school do not last very long.  Many high schools in the United States have special programs and support for international students to help them with their adjustment to a new culture and language.  Your expectation may be that you will make a lot of American friends on your first day of school, but you may find that instead you will make friends with students in your English as a second language program.  These students come from all over the world.  Your experience making friends from many other countries, not just the United States, will be one of the best experiences you may have during your study abroad.  It may seem very strange that you travel to the United States and make friends from Japan, Korea, France and Germany, but that is one of the great things about studying in the United States - making friends from all over the world!

Your experience on the first day of school may be different depending on your level of English and the type of school where you study.  You may find it easier to make friends quickly at a small private school versus a large public school.  You may enter a new school and find thousands of students standing in the hallway, most talking in groups with friends but many will be standing alone with no friends just like you.  It will feel very chaotic and noisy.  It’s natural for any students to be scared on their first day of school.  As an international students, you will have an easier time adjusting if your school offers special programs and support for international students.  Before you decide where to study in the United States you should do a lot of research and possibly consult with a professional study abroad advisor to make sure the school you will attend offers adequate support for international students.  You should look for schools that have an English as a second language program, provide airport pick up services, special orientation for international students, and a homestay program.

Many international students find that it is easier to adjust quickly to a new culture and language if they live with a homestay family.  In some cases, your family will also have children who attend the same school and these homestay brothers and sisters will be your first friends.  They will help you to make friends with other American students.  Although students’ experiences with homestay families vary, most families will treat you like you are one of their own children.  They will care for you when you get sick.  They will talk with you when you are lonely or homesick.  They will help you to learn English and adjust to the new couture.  You will also find that your teachers, high school counselor, but especially the English as a second language (or ESL) teachers will help you a lot with your transition.  They will give you advice for joining clubs, activities and sport activities that will help you to be both socially and academically successful at your new school.

One important thing to remember as you prepare for your first day of high school as an international students - you are not alone.  There will be many other international students and American students who are also new and they are just as scared feeling just as alone as you.  Take a deep breath, smile and go and introduce yourself to one of these students.  They will appreciate it and you may make your first friend in the United States!

 

Castro, Sofia (2017, May 27). Estudie en una escuela en Estados Unidos. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/kxbJlVB2ROM
Averlo, Emi (2016. April 29) Mi experiencia en High School en USA. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/ectptUWIrX0

 

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