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Dreamers: The 6,800-Mile Journey to a New Culture
Yizhang (Zhang) Cao '20, hosted by the Mary family

It has been several months since I came to America. This was a very hard decision--it was 11,000 km (6,800 mi) from Shanghai to Cincinnati. There are more than ten thousand students who go abroad each year, not just to America, but also to Britain, Australia, Japan and other countries. These students are known as “dreamers”.

We are on the way to find our dreams. We are trying to find change.

Thirty years ago, Chinese students did not consider it a possibility to leave China. This was a dark age of society. But now, 30 years have passed and China has become the fastest developing country. It has been a hard transition for Chinese people to accept that they can now leave the country to study abroad. While many students now study abroad, they do not usually remain living abroad after their studies.

A group of international students and ambassadors, many of them from Shanghai, enjoying an ice skating event.

One reason it is hard to leave China for many people is because living in China is comfortable. We are used to many ways of living that are not available in the same way in America. One example is that on the weekends, whether in the daytime or night time, people in Shanghai, China go outside of their homes to have fun and to meet people to discuss business. Since being in America, I am surprised at how quiet it is, and I miss the sounds of Shanghai. In Cincinnati I hardly even hear the sound of car engines. People here seem to prefer staying in their houses chatting with their family members or watching TV. This is quite different than my life in China.

Another difference is in the family. When I was in primary school, most of time I just saw my father 1 or 2 times each week. Because my father was really busy working, he usually came back home after I was in bed and left home earlier than I got up. However, in America, it seems that most of the parents come back home in the early evening and have a wonderful dinner with their family. American life seems to be more leisurely, whereas this is not the case in China.

Chinese people pursue a difficult life in order to leave a comfortable life for their posterity. This is the mindset every parent seems to have. Each adult in the family is motivated to earn a big amount of money for their son, so that he can have a high education and an easy life. Sometimes, when those adults build up a big company or retire from their 30 or 40 years working, they still want to work. In my experience, this is the Chinese lifestyle and it seems to be very different from the American lifestyle.

Learning in America is wonderful. If I were to describe American learning, I would say that it always gives people surprises. I was shocked by the American high school sport competitive culture. The environment is so positive that even international students who hardly understand sports like football also get excited at the games. Students are shouting, laughing, and encouraging. This is so wonderful and very hard to describe.

The CHCA cheer squad, including international student Marcela Gonzalez, lines up before a home game.

The CHCA cheer squad, including international student Marcela Gonzalez, lines up before a home game.

The SOS groups are also surprising and enrich people's lives. I went to an event where we helped refugee people forced to immigrate because their home country was in war. There was a girl who came from Iraq who, before she came to America, couldn’t speak English. However, after only 1 year, her English is excellent. When we were chatting, we asked her what the most amazing aspect was about America. She answered simply that she can go to school. This made me realize that America is a kind of society that includes different kinds of people of different races mixing together. For that girl and for many who come to America, their life is totally different here. People come to America for different reasons. She came for protection and safety, and I came to learn. For this girl, coming to America involved much risk and permanent change. I will probably remember this experience for the rest of my life.

I have learned many things about America and I am looking forward to all the things I will continue to learn in this very different environment.


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