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Mars Hou sets academic standard through cultural immersion

Senior Yuteng (Mars) Hou is an international student at Fresno Christian Schools, one of many participants in the AmeriStudent program. AmeriStudent LLC. works with incoming international students to secure a safe homestay and offer support through cultural and educational integration.

Mars Hou | The Feather Online

Senior Mars Hou, right, and his mother, Zhang Yan, participate in water biking on Long River in FuYang, China.

“Do you want to go to America?” my father asked me as we ended a party we were at and returned home. I always thought going to America was a joke so I answered, “Of course, if you can send me.”

While in China, I hadn’t taken English lessons seriously and naively thought I did not need them. Plus, I never expected to leave China and Chinese education. When my dad told me I needed to learn English, I thought he must have heard the story of his friend’s children studying abroad at the party and I thought he was ‘brainwashed’ by them. He wasn’t.

Obviously he saw the good side of studying abroad. Two days later, my mother took me to my school and gave me a school certificate and a transcript. Later that same week, I was sent to Shanghai to secure a visa and learn English. I only had two months before school started in America.

In the beginning, I didn’t have any motivation one way or the other to learn English. But if it allowed me to upgrade, get into future universities and win art awards, I agreed. Later, when someone asks my father about me, I hope my father can describe me proudly.

While my hometown of Fuyang, Anhui, has a population of 10 million, it is a small city by Chinese standards. Few people around me had gone abroad and no one from our family had traveled outside China.

I didn’t know at the time that I would encounter difficulties when I arrived in the US, so my only fear was that I was on the wrong plane. I was so naive.

Mars Hou | The Feather Online

Twelve-year-old Mars poses with his mother, Zhang Yan, in front of  the Shuang Zita landmark in Hefei, China.

Standing at the door of the consulate in May 2016, it must have been the hot weather in Shanghai, China, plus a little bit of tension that caused countless sweat drops to dribble down my cheeks. Although I felt ready, for the first time, to enter the consulate, I hoped my interviewer was a Chinese who spoke Mandarin.

Finally it was my turn. I walked slowly to the visa officer and looked up. I found an Asian officer, black long hair and eyes like dark pearls. The first sentence I spoke in English was, “Can you speak Chinese?”

I was immediately rejected for my English skills and sadly walked out of the consulate.

I was rejected both the second and third time because of English. Finally, my luck was with a gentle lady officer. Although I still had a problem with my English, I passed the test and was able to go the US.

Less than two months before the start of the 2016-17 school year, I studied at an English institute. Since I only had two months left before the fall semester, I went abroad because I needed to go to the US before August 2016. I was recommended to sprint class: classes for students who are going abroad soon.

At that time, I couldn’t speak English at all, and I needed to study with students who had studied hard for a year or two. I couldn’t understand, but I thought that when I arrived in the United States, my English would improve rapidly. After all, the language environment was very important.

My only regret is that other parents can watch their children grow up, and my parents will take a long time to see me again. I know that they miss me, especially my mother.

Mars Hou | The Feather Online

Mars lived with his mother Zhang Yan, left, and father, Yunfei Hou, right, in his hometown, FuYang, Anhui, China.

I like to try new things or processes, so while I was in China, I didn’t care how my father arranged things for me. It was not until I studied in the United States that I slowly realized that my surroundings and my life had changed dramatically.

I have met a lot of new levels of thinking while in America. In my hometown, my knowledge was only in an ordinary high school as I hoped to go to a good university.

I didn’t even know any brand name because I had never touched them.

When I came to the United States, I saw that a t-shirt could sell for 3,000 RMB (equivalent to $430 US). I have been highly attracted to American clothing and fashion in the US, sometimes buying cool, fashionable shoes and clothes.

As three years went by, I grew up and learned a lot. Slowly, I began to restrain my shopping desire and began to plan my future. I want to live up to my parents’ expectations of me, but I have difficulty. My parents gave me this platform which enabled me to improve my knowledge and thinking as I set higher goals for myself.

I am satisfied with the learning environment in the United States, whether it is in the classroom or in daily communication. When I first entered the American classroom as a freshman at Fresno Christian, there were many people of different skin colors sitting in the math classroom. 

With the help of the teacher, I introduced myself. I just found a seat where no one was sitting. It was the first time I felt so strange in the surrounding environment that I couldn’t get involved. At that time, I saw Chinese people just like me sitting  together. They were very kind. 

Mars Hou | The Feather Online

Mars practiced gymnastics with his coach in his hometown from ages five to seven.

In class, I chose to sit with them. If I didn’t understand, I would ask them and we became friends. I know that having more communication with Americans will improve my English, but I am worried that my English level will cause embarrassment and misunderstanding to others.

I do not want to be treated as trouble. I know I am very fortunate. My frequent inquiries have not been disgusted by Chinese friends. Instead, other Chinese students are very willing to help me. I also found that American students around me are also very happy to help me. When teachers ask questions, they tell me to take the initiative and ask for help.

American classmates like to ask me some questions about China. I use movements, some simple sentences and translations to explain them. They will also listen to me very patiently and help me to express myself better. I am very grateful to each of them, not treating me as a trouble, but treating me as a friend.

Soon, I made a lot of friends. Whether Chinese or American, I am slowly beginning to understand conversations and give an answer.

My parents accompanied me to the United States for the first time as I began my freshman year. They stayed with me for one day and then they traveled around the United States for a week. They haven’t come again because the tickets are expensive.

I live with a host family in Fresno, and at first, I hid in my room most of the time. The host family is also very friendly and asked me if I was comfortable with them and what I wanted to eat for dinner. For the first year, I couldn’t understand the name of the food she served. So sometimes when I didn’t like the food and couldn’t explain to her my likes and dislikes, I went hungry.

Avery Jones | The Feather Online

Senior Mars Hou plans on attending a U.S. university in the fall to study architectural design. His parents work is associated to design, so I has had an interest in design since he was young.

I had trouble eating the American food my host family likes and the Chinese food my host mom knew how to make. She sometimes take me to horseback riding and shopping. I am very grateful to her for paying for me and treating me like my biological parents.

I have been in the United States for three years and I am able to understand what most people mean. Although it is sometimes difficult, I can use the keywords in the sentence to guess the meaning of the sentence, although sometimes it may not be accurate.

Every day is very difficult; I need to work hard to understand what people mean. Even if there are many people around, I often feel lonely, unable to reunite with my family. But the people around me are very friendly.

Of course, I hope that I can enter an ideal university. I do not want to fail my family. I need to give more effort to learn English. I decided to overcome fear as much as possible and work hard to learn the new language. I hope that my English can be fluent some day.

Normally when I misunderstand something, I know how to explain it clearly, but the teacher’s inquiry makes me unable to express clearly and only makes things worse. So I often choose to be silent. Once I am silent, the teacher will think that my silence is because I realize my mistake and think it is my problem. I know I need to talk more.

Sometimes teachers will misunderstand what I mean and I can’t explain it clearly in English. As long as I am fluent in English, I can express myself how I want to.

My goal is to communicate with anyone and express my feelings. I plan on going to university in the US to study architectural design. My parents’ work is associated to design, so I have had this interest since I was young.

My dream is to become an architect and take steps toward this goal. In addition, I also would like to attend a competitive art school to improve my design skills. My English must improve; it is indispensable for my success.

Yuteng (Mars) Hou is an international student from FuYang, Anhui, China. FuYang is known for coal, limestone and iron ore mining, located in the center of China.

For more Feather international student columns, read COLUMN: Language barrier, culture, grandparent death shape international student and COLUMN: Learn to embrace, overcome difficult situations through self-empowerment.

Mars Hou can be reached via email.

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