This month’s Student Spotlight features a recent graduate of Pope John Paul II High School (JPII) and Cambridge Network Alum Mandy Hua ’18, who is currently studying at New York University. As Mandy embarks on her journey through the first year of her undergraduate studies, she took some time to reflect on how her international student experience in high school prepared her for the transition to college. Originally from Hangzhou, the capital of China’s Zhejiang province, Mandy spent three years in Hendersonville, TN before traveling to Manhattan, NY this past fall. She has not forgotten about the memories and connections she made along the way.
When Mandy first arrived in the United States in 2015, she faced the same difficulties that many international students do: unease with having to communicate in new language and nervousness at having to live in a new home. She was shy at first. The amount of new and unfamiliar stimuli can feel overwhelming to many. Her adjustment to the new culture and language didn’t happen as quickly as she had hoped. She understood that she would have to go outside of her comfort zone to adapt to her new surroundings. She made a commitment to herself that she would take every opportunity she had to learn about American culture. And she had a host family who was eager to expose to new experiences.
First, she auditioned for her school’s spring musical, Shrek. None of Mandy’s schools before even had a theatre program. Mandy thought, “It was an opportunity to try something new, to make friends, and to get know myself in a new way…so I took it.” As she developed more confidence on stage, she also felt the change in her daily life as well. She would later join the Forensics club, Math club, and Bowling Team. Fun fact: JPII’s Bowling Team has since gone to back-to-back state championships tournaments. (Go Knights!)
Mandy goes on to mention, “JPII allowed me to explore my passions through all of the activities and clubs they offered, I made some really good friends, and I still talk to them today.” She attributes much of her transformation to her hosts, the Baker family. Mandy grew especially close to her host sister, Elena, who happens to be in the same grade. As they both make the transition to college this year, the pair still frequently communicate and continue to lean on each other for advice. Last Thanksgiving, Mandy visited her host family at Elena’s grandparents’ house where they had dinner and caught up on the time they’ve spent apart. The Bakers have a standing invitation for Mandy, and she has promised to make the trip every year.
The opportunities Mandy took to try new things and the connections she made during her high school years have helped her learn to navigate this new environment and shaped her interest. When asked why she chose NYU Mandy said, “I came here because of my passion in theater and business. New York is such an international city that embraces people of different cultures, and there’s so much to explore.” Mandy hopes to build on her interests that she found at JPII into her studies and eventually into her career.
As Mandy become more self-assured in her own identity, she has also grown into a leader and positive presence to her younger classmates. Mandy’s Student Development Manager, Emily, remembers her encouraging other students to try new things and practice their English instead of speaking their native language during group outings. Mandy offers the same the advice that she prescribed to herself for anyone looking to study abroad, “It takes courage to meet people from different backgrounds and learn new things, but you will get back way more than you expected. You get to know more about yourself.”
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