Former international student describes her high school experience

An in-depth look at 2020 graduate Lydia Sun’s four years at Waldorf School of the Peninsula 

By Dylan Lee

Sun’s first time in Westfield

Lydia Sun has recently graduated from Waldorf School of the Peninsula with the class of 2020. She is from Wuhan, China, near the Youzin river. She was part of WSP’s four-year international program, which allows students from all over the world to attend class at WSP and live with a host family.

Coming to the United States was a coincidence for Sun. Since elementary school, her family had been planning for her to remain in China for high school and attend college in Canada. A college counselor advised Sun to go to high school in the United States, since there was a higher chance for her to be accepted into a well-known university after attending high school in the US.

Sun and her family followed the counselor’s advice and applied to many schools in the Bay Area. After coming across some brochures for the Waldorf School of the Peninsula, Sun was intrigued as it was quite different from the typical Chinese education style. 

“The traditional Chinese educational style can really provide a solid foundation and knowledge for everyone. All the classes are very structural. From primary school to high school you will get a very solid foundation for each subject. It’s very stressful but it helps a lot of people gain patience, and I think it can teach a lot of students how to pursue and achieve their goal,” she said.

While attending a Waldorf school Sun was able to feel like she had some talent. She learned how to draw, paint, and weave baskets. She started to love art and playing music like the guitar. Whenever she completed a main lesson book she felt proud of herself. 

“In China, we don’t get a chance to do art and use your hands to create something,” Sun explained

Although Sun sensed that Waldorf School of the Peninsula was special, she still found some parts of the curriculum strange. Waldorf’s main lesson block schedule greatly contrasted the way of teaching of the schools Sun had gone to before. Sun explained that most schools in China would teach each subject every single day, whereas, with the main lesson setup, subjects like physics or chemistry are only taught for a month and then revisited and built upon the following year.

Sun’s host family was a Chinese family and so the first time Sun met her classmates it was also the very first time Sun engaged with Americans. Sun said that her English was very poor and she was so nervous upon meeting them because to her, they spoke extremely fast. Because of the language barrier, Sun said that she didn’t make that many friends and she was shy as well so it was hard for her to get help from the teachers. However, by the end of her freshman year, Sun felt more comfortable among her classmates and had a blast during the Boston Trip playing games in the dorms. 

“My experience in America changed me a lot through the years,” Sun said when talking about what it was like visiting her family in China every summer break. “When I came back to China every year I felt a little bit different and my family felt that too.” 

After living in America for four years Sun felt a lot more independent. Back in China, she would never go anywhere alone but now she goes wherever she pleases by herself. Sun also began to focus more on other people. “Through these four years, I felt like I had to care about other people’s ideas. Because whatever I do, it will affect them. If I do this, how will that impact them?”

Sun would facetime her family whenever she experienced homesickness. “In my junior year and the senior year, my host family gave me a lot of love and support. I had a home in America so I didn’t feel that lonely,” Sun explained. 

“It was strange to be around people you haven’t talked to or seen in a long time,” Sun said when describing what it was like going back to China and her family. Her parents had gotten older and she felt weird to be around them.

When Sun visited her family over the summers she saw how much her two younger brothers had changed while she was gone. Sun’s youngest brother was two years old when she first left China for her international studies. He couldn’t talk or write. Now after four years he speaks fluently and writes lots of words. 

“Over the years I felt that as an older sister I should take care of them and I should have the responsibility to help them if they need me,” she said.

A faculty member that really helped Sun over the years was Kelly McKeown. When Sun was in her junior year she was extremely worried about her college application. McKeown gave Lydia a lot of advice with what she should accomplish during her junior year and what she should do over the summer. 

“Kelly pointed out you don’t have to pay that much attention to the results. The more important thing is the process. You can learn more things during the process,” she said.

Sun’s family lives in Wuhan which was the epicenter of the coronavirus. While Wuhan was in lockdown because of the virus, Sun had to remain in America. Luckily, each year for New Years, her family travels to their hometown which was in the suburbs of Wuhan where the coronavirus had  not spread. 

Sun’s aunt’s husband got the virus and before he knew he was sick the entire family had a big dinner together to celebrate New Years. 

“I cried a few days because of this. I was so worried because I didn’t know if my family would get this or not,” Sun explained. But luckily after 14 days and even a month her family hadn’t shown any symptoms of the virus. The aunt’s husband has fully recovered as well.

While reflecting on her four-year journey as an international high schooler Sun said, “I’ve made a lot of memories and I will miss everyone, especially the school and all the teachers. I think the most important thing is the experience I had with Waldorf because Waldorf is very different from the other schools. I just feel that this is the most precious memory I have in my whole life.”

Some advice Sun has for students travelling abroad is this, “For the students I just feel like they should give themselves more chances to talk with different people and get to know more American culture. Just … get more involved with the culture and people. For the parents I just feel that they should support the children. Whatever choice they make the parents should support them.” 

Sun now lives in China and began online classes at the University of British Columbia on September 7th. Everything is online and everyone in her classes are in different timezones. She said that she is confident in how a Waldorf education has prepared her for this next part of her life. 

“Waldorf made me feel like I am different from everyone else. After four years in America I have become more mature and confident. Before coming to WSP, I was very afraid to meet new people or to just have a class with new people. I always felt nervous, but now I have the courage to face new people in new situations. For academics I have more experience with presentations and labs. Staub and Fredrickson helped me a lot because they let me do projects that are college-level and now I feel like I have more experience compared to others,” she said. 

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