Zhiyu from China, known as Markus to his friends and host family, has been on the PSE program since 2018 and is a senior this year. Remarkably, he has spent all four years of his PSE program experience at the same school and with the same host family.

Lisa, his Local Coordinator, describes Markus as a cheerful, hardworking, and conscientious student. “It was my privilege to begin working with Markus his sophomore year of high school. He is very comfortable in America using English,” she shares.

Prior to his PSE program experience, Markus had never been to America. His decision to join the program was based on the fact that it was more economical than a traditional boarding school.

After spending several years on the program, Markus has recognized several ways in which school in the U.S. differs from that in China:

“The freedom and flexibility of one’s curriculum is miles better, and a lot of the courses offer serious challenges though not notoriously difficult. Clubs, extracurricular activities, and sports also play a large part in school compared to schools in my country.”

Markus considers himself an above average student, and his favorite classes are AP European History and AP Calculus. He states, “The teachers and engaging in-class activities are essential to a fun and enjoyable class.”

Regarding the COVID 19 pandemic, Markus says that it did not affect him to the extent he thought it would, and he adapted to the changes fairly well.

“The experience was not too different from before the pandemic apart from the safety regulations. Thankfully, our school ended up adopting a full-time in-person learning model.”

Lisa reports that Markus is very focused in school and has a good attitude about the experience. She describes his resilient nature:

“Like many students, Markus’ school went completely online at the start of the pandemic last year.  Robotics competitions that he had really anticipated were cancelled. Additionally, he faced the challenge of not being able to see his family the last two summers. Although it has been challenging, Markus has pushed through and continues to work hard.”

Markus has been involved in both the school robotics and math teams. “During my first year on the robotics team, we won the state championship (in 2019) and the state inspire award in 2021. It was a very sentimental experience, and I take pride in our achievements,” he recalls.

Markus was also ranked Top 100 (84th for 2019-20 and 82nd for 2020-21) in the regional WOCOMAL varsity individually.

Markus’ host mother, Karen, describes him as quiet, intelligent, and polite.  She says that he has been the ideal exchange student – very respectful, works hard, and is always willing to help out.

“It has been great observing him fulfill his dream and seeing him grow from a boy into a young man,” she shares. Karen recalls a fun experience on New Year’s Eve when the family went to a Hibachi restaurant. “We all had fun watching the food being made in front of us!”

Although being with the same host family throughout the exchange experience has brought some challenges, it has also been very rewarding to Markus.

“There can be some friction between us at times, but it is mostly due to my irritable habits and sometimes careless and forgetful nature. I deeply appreciate and am grateful for their continued care and consideration. I especially enjoy conversations with them on a variety of topics, whether it’s school, random thoughts, philosophy, politics, or just life in general in the U.S.”

Based on his observations, Markus shares that Americans seem to be more liberal and outspoken than he expected. When asked about his experience and perception of feeling safe and accepted here in America, Markus reports that he has not experienced, nor feared, any sort of anti-Asian violence. He shares that he deeply empathizes with those who were involved and affected by anti-Asian actions no matter the form.

“Being a rather nerdy and non-active person living in a quiet neighborhood, I’ve never feared for my safety nor felt threatened by anything.”

Markus reflects upon his exchange experience and shares, “It has definitely accelerated my maturation as a person and helped shape me to be more independent and individualistic.”

Markus provides the following message for students from China thinking about studying in the U.S.A.:

“At first, the amount of writing needed to be done in school might seem daunting, but just work hard and write. You will grow more proficient in the process. Also, unfinished work will catch up to you, so either don’t procrastinate (which we all know is virtually impossible), or get things done!”

Markus says that while just having started his fourth year on the program, he simply looks forward to seeing good college application results and a decent wrap-up of his senior year. He hopes to pursue a Masters degree and seek job opportunities in the U.S. in the future. Karen and her family plan to help him look at colleges in America.

Markus made an impact on Lisa in a special way.  She shares that her own son was studying about China in school and spoke with Markus about Chinese culture. “Markus was so great at interacting with my son and answering his questions,” she shares.

Lisa closes with this message for Markus:

“I am so grateful to have the opportunity to get to know you, Markus. I can’t wait to see where your work ethic takes you in life!”

Written by Flo Ruiz; Edited by Ann Steffen

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