- Christian Wiley
Updated: Mar 9
The CCS community is very diverse not only in the different people you will meet but also the stories that each one holds. Alisa Zhu, a senior enrolled at CCS, is one of the last groups of foreign exchange students involved in the Global Ambassadors Program at Chattanooga Christian School. In this article, we will hear Alisa’s story of how she ended up at CCS, the differences of living in the US vs. China, and what it was like for her to be separated from her family during a global pandemic that took away her ability to return home.
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you” - Maya Angelou.
Alisa Zhu is an outgoing, funny, and all around enjoyable person that the CCS community has been blessed to call their own. She was one of the last couple of students accepted into the Global Ambassadors Program before the pandemic hit the world, which resulted in the program being shut down for the time being. Alisa has shared her story, one that is remarkable, heart-warming, and poignant. It is certain to stir up feelings and help know her character on a more personal level.
Alisa found it somewhat hilarious that she is now attending CCS because the whole idea of going was rooted out of her mother’s jokes about her moving to the US for school. However, Alisa said this made her think “why not?” hence why she began the application process. She had agents to help her through the process but they didn’t give her specific schools to pick from, so it was up to her and her mom to research schools. After lots of research, her mom came across CCS and thought it would be a great fit for Alisa and her personality.
Alisa says that she had a funny misunderstanding during her application process to CCS. Apparently, there were two schools named CCS that she was looking at and her agents believed she wanted to go to the one that wasn’t Chattanooga Christian School. This led the Global Ambassadors Program to be unaware of her enrollment until she showed up on the first day of her freshman year.
A major part of her story is Alisa’s experience of transitioning between two cultures and what that meant for her. When faced with the question, “Were you ever scared about moving to the US without your family?”, Alisa said, “yes and no.” Alisa said her biggest fear was the language barrier she would be facing. She worried tremendously about her English and if people would understand her. She was terrified she would be asked a question in class and the teacher wouldn’t understand what she was saying. Although the transition was scary at times, Alisa found a supportive and welcoming community at CCS. Alisa believes one of the strongest things about the CCS community is how accepting and kind everyone is. She says that everyone made her feel like she belonged as soon as she joined CCS and that it felt more like a family rather than a group of strangers. She says the person she would say was the most supportive was Ms. Hoffman, before she left, because of how helpful she was anytime Alisa needed anything. Alisa also felt loved by the Global Ambassadors Program as a whole due to their dedication and hard work they put forward in order to represent different cultures around the world.
Alisa’s story about randomly one day deciding to transition to schooling in another country made me curious if this was a common thing for people to do and, if so, why?
Alisa informed me that moving for a different education like she did is pretty popular in China. She said that a lot of people move later than her, typically around college age, and that she actually moved early for her age. She claims that a lot of people move from China to places like Europe and Australia. This is because other countries' schooling systems feel less stressful than China’s schools. Alisa told me that in China the workload and expectations of students are very rigorous and oftentimes incredibly stressful. Schools in China run for a lot longer than American schools as well. A typical school day starts at 7 am and ends at 7:30 pm. During this twelve-hour school period, it’s all academics and the only break you get is for lunch and dinner. Imagine the stress!
This strenuous workload is the main reason Alisa says that people leave China to go to other countries with better educational offerings. Alisa made it clear that she isn’t saying American schooling is easy, but American schools also involve things like dances, musicals, and clubs which aren't as valued as academics are in China. A want to escape from this overarching stress was the primary reason Alisa decided to move to the US for schooling. However, there were setbacks by doing this. Alisa said that most people who move to another country from China for schooling tend to stay in that country due to the difference in rigor. The work expectancy is a lot more demanding in China and they work at a significantly faster pace in schooling than other countries. So, students who attend high school in another country and then move back to China for college often find the work very difficult. They have previously been learning different things than the Chinese schools, who often enough are much farther ahead curriculum-wise, and so it ends up being difficult to catch up with the other students. This is why Alisa says that she plans on staying in the US until after college because she thinks the transition back to college would be way too risky.
Alisa has found that the cultural shift between America and China hasn’t been drastically different besides academically. There are many similarities between the two countries. However, there are still a few things she has been shocked by and things that she dearly misses about her home country. One of the biggest shocks for Alisa is that Americans drink tap water. She says this isn’t even heard of in China and so she was very confused when she saw people drinking out of water fountains when she first came to America. She has also found that America is a lot more relaxed and less procedural, including the many opportunities for creativity that aren’t present in China. The food for Alisa has been a big transition as well. Alisa said that American food seems a lot more unhealthy and not as nutritional as the food she is used to in China.
The biggest obstacle in Alisa’s path though was the global pandemic, Covid-19. Alisa was a freshman when the pandemic hit and had just started attending CCS. At the beginning of the pandemic, she heard from her mother that there was an infectious disease in China but she never anticipated it would hit America. It was her second semester of her first year in America and she was sent, along with the rest of the country, into lockdown. Alisa was very worried because she had to stay in quarantine with her host family and she couldn’t go home to see her family back in China. She felt very distant like she was watching this disease take over from afar. China wouldn’t let Alisa return home during her freshman or sophomore year of high school and so she was forced to stay separated from her family. This caused a wedge between her and normalcy. Alisa says that “You feel less cared about because you are so far away and distant.” She missed her family tremendously but she was stuck in this foreign country and had to make the most of the daunting times.
Now at the end of the Pandemic and Alisa’s senior year, Alisa feels like she has no regrets. When asked if she would go back in time to avoid coming to CCS and to avoid being stuck in America during the pandemic, she answered no. Alisa says that moving to CCS and persevering through those times made her feel more confident, loved, and allowed her to get out of her shell. She was opened to new doors culturally and allowed to see the world from a new perspective. Yes, there have been some roadblocks through her journey but they have made her better and able to see the world in a different way. She was even able to find a community she feels loved and included in at CCS She can’t wait to hopefully continue her journey at UCLA next year. In the end, Alisa encourages all international students to go for it and start their journey and do schooling in a different country. She has grown through the lifelong memories she has made, the good and the bad, and they have given her a new lens for how she sees the world. Alisa has persevered during her journey but she has also made lifelong memories and grown into a community, both of which have pushed her to finally arrive at her destination.