British freshman adjusts to life in America

November 27, 2018 — by Christine Zhang

As freshman Peilin Zhang, then an eighth grader in the U.K., sat down in her history classroom last spring, her teacher accidentally revealed to the class that Zhang would be moving out of the country at the end of the school year, which was only two weeks away. Zhang’s classmates were taken aback, and her teacher immediately regretted his announcement.

“My teacher felt bad about it, but in the end, I think it was easier that he said it because I would have been really sad telling everyone that I was leaving,” Zhang said.

Zhang was born in Bad Soden, Germany, and lived there until age 3. She then moved to Manchester, England, where she lived until this past July.

Both of these relocations were due to Zhang’s father’s job. Her family moved to the Bay Area because it was convenient for her father’s work, and Zhang’s family also liked Bay Area schools along with the area’s overall atmosphere.

Zhang said that the systems of standardized testing in the two countries are different. Students in the U.K. take a set of exams called the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE), while American students take SATs and ACTs. If she still lived in the U.K., Zhang would take the GCSE a year from now.

Additionally, Zhang said that U.K. schools are a year ahead of U.S. schools, so she would be in grade 10 there. She is technically repeating grade 9 this year, but she said that she is still learning new material because of the differing curricula between the two countries.

Zhang said that while she had more classes in the U.K., she has more homework here. The classes themselves are about the same level of difficulty.

So far, Zhang is adapting well to life in the U.S., and aside from the contrasting school systems, she said that only needs to become familiar with small cultural and language differences.

“I’ve got to get used to the little things,” Zhang said. “Some things just kind of trigger me, like people say biscuit here as a bread when it’s another thing in the U.K.”

Zhang said that certain holidays are celebrated differently, too.

“We didn’t celebrate Halloween that much, and we didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving at all because that has to do with the Pilgrims,” she said. “But Christmas and Easter are really big things in England. We would celebrate in school as well as out of school.”

This year will be Zhang’s first Christmas in the U.S. Her family plans to pass the holiday similarly to how they did in the U.K. — they will set up a Christmas tree and have dinner with family friends. Zhang said that her mother has a cousin who currently lives near them, so they will likely eat together this year.

In the meantime, Zhang is missing her friends in the U.K. and said that the time difference between the two countries interferes with their communication.

“I go home, and they’re already having dinner,” Zhang said. “It’s completely weird. Whenever I talk to them, they have to leave early because they have to go to school the next day.”

Nonetheless, she is managing to stay in touch. Zhang’s friends joke that she is losing her British roots because of the different phrases that she uses.

“My friend was saying how she had some subject next term, but I was saying next semester,” Zhang said. “She said I was turning American, but terms and semesters are different. There are four terms in a year but only two semesters.”

Zhang said that some people comment about her British accent, but she doesn't mind it very much.

“I thought more people were going to ask me to pronounce certain things like tomato or water, but not many did,” she said. “Mostly people ask me to do an American accent and try to imitate my accent, but I’m fine with it because I’m so used to it now.”

Additionally, two of her friends here are from Germany, so they use some of the same vocabulary that Zhang does.

Despite all the challenges, Zhang said that she is enjoying her time in the U.S.

“I’m learning a new culture here because of the people around me,” she said. “America is the country of dreams, so it’s a good opportunity for me to live here and have a good future. I think it’s really fun.”

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