Your high school years are strange ones, and that is universally true. There wouldn’t be so many movies about it if it wasn’t a common experience. You’re growing up but not grown, you have responsibilities but little power, and you have to find yourself while trying not to get lost. It’s a confusing time for everyone, but it also offers great promise. After all, you can meet lifelong friends and really find something you’re passionate about. It’s a great time to explore.
Everything in the above paragraph is doubly true if you are an international studying spending a year or more in an American high school. The sense of alienation that everyone feels can certainly be heightened- but the potential is also doubled. You are already an adventurer, exploring what for you is a new world. It is an odd quirk of human nature, but when on the metaphorical seas, when you are trying to navigate unfamiliar waters- that’s when you are most likely to find yourself.
High school is often portrayed as a place to fit in, and while that is gratifying, it can also be boring. Just by virtue of the courage it takes to spend at least a year in America, you are already head and shoulders above everyone else. And there are ways to show it. Here are a few suggestions of activities and extracurriculars to help you stand out.
Start an intramural sports team from your home country
Sports are universal. While not everyone enjoys sports, there isn’t a country as a whole that doesn’t. Many Americans are, of course, sports-crazy, but we do often fall into the football/basketball/baseball rut. Maybe you can help snap your fellow classmates out of it. If there is a sport that your country- or just you- are crazy about but that nobody here plays, you could maybe start an intramural league to teach people about it. Perhaps you are from a cricket-obsessed nation, like India or Pakistan. Odds are, you’ll find that cricket is unfamiliar to most people in America, its rules seemingly-bizarre. But that is easy to overcome. After all, you’ve learned about baseball. With this team, you can teach people about your country and your traditions outside the normal classroom/lecture setting. You’d be surprised at how many people want to take up a new sport, and the interest they will have. It might at first be novelty, but for many, it may turn into passion.
A quick note about clubs
Of course, at most schools, forming a club or a team is more than a matter of posting a flier on a wall. There are rules and regulations when doing so– make sure you check with the administration. They’ll be more than happy to help you out.
Start an international students club
There is a chance your school already has one of these, but if not, this is a great opportunity for you to make friends with people going through the same things you are, and to invite American classmates who may be interested in learning about the experience. An international club can bring together students who are studying abroad and those who are interested in other cultures. It’s a great way to get to know each other. And along the way, you may inspire some of your American classmates to explore future study abroad opportunities.
But it isn’t just a talking society: you may want to share with your classmates the richness of your culture in another way. One great idea is to hold an international pot luck: everyone bringing their favorite foods from their homelands to share. Stereotypically, Americans (especially kids) aren’t particularly interested in eating “strange” food, but these days people are way more open to experience. If possible, you can also do bigger events that are important, like a Dragon Boat Race, if there is a river nearby. You’re only bound by geography and your imagination.
Join the yearbook
There are a lot of ways to be remembered, but helping everyone else remember high school can be a big part of it. A lot of people may argue that yearbooks are stale and not needed with the rise of social media. However, in terms of capturing a time and place, they are still unsurpassed and there are some great innovative options to choose from these days. You can bring new ideas on how to shake it up, such as fun and exciting new categories for a yearbook awards page. Bringing your own unique perspective to a tradition-bound affair is a great way to put your mark on the school.
Remember: you aren’t bound by labels
This may seem contradictory, since I just told you a bunch of things you can do to celebrate being an international student, but you may find that you don’t have to do any of that to stand out. You aren’t “the Chinese girl” or “the Indian guy”- you are you, and you have to follow your passion. Act, dance, play American football, join the chess club, or the school radio station. Run for student council, be the starting center on the basketball team, start a bird enthusiasm society, be the homecoming queen, be yourself. That’s what the experience is all about. Learning, growing, and getting to know yourself. If you keep that in mind, you’ll succeed beyond your wildest expectations.
The international student experience is both challenging and exciting. Whether you are a student considering studying in America, their parent, the host family, the Head of School, an international coordinator, or even a potential classmate, there are as many opportunities for confusion as there are to learn. The ISPA is here to help bridge that gap, to ensure that this opportunity and adventure is met with the highest level of success.