(Don’t be Afraid to) Learn and Shine – 9 Questions for 2017 Graduate Icy

Icy Rongbin Shen is a member of Foxborough High School’s Class of 2017.

Originally from Shenzhen, Canton in China, Icy came to the United States two years ago as an exchange student in Huston, Texas and transferred to Foxborough High School in Massachusetts for her senior year.

Foxborough High School is a member of Cambridge Network’s public school system, which brings students into their communities for a single 10-month academic year or semester. The program’s objective is to ease younger international students into U.S. culture alongside academics, even helping some obtain their diploma and assist them onto the next life.

Read more about Icy’s journey and how studying in the U.S. expanded her perspectives below.


What was your first impression about Boston and the school?

I really love this area. As we know, Massachusetts has a very good education system and tons of great colleges. As for my high school, my first impression was: it’s a huge! Many high schools in the U.S. only have one or two buildings, but Foxborough was much bigger than I expected. Additionally, it has a well-developed education system, great amount of sporting equipment, and tons of clubs… My favorite part about Foxborough High School was the school clubs, especially the music program. It was pretty awesome!


Why did you choose a public high school?

Most of the local students choose public schools. Thus, there’s a better chance, relatively, that public schools can provide better language environment for English learners like myself. Plus, public schools have greater diversity. I chose a public school because I wanted to encounter with different cultures and make more friends. Public schools also offer more options of classes, especially AP courses, which allowed me to better prepare for college study. Lastly, the tuition at public schools is more acceptable after all.


What does the class size look like?

It depends. AP classes usually have 10-15 students. While the number might be smaller for less popular subjects such as History, there could also be more than 20 students in a popular class such as Mathematics. Classes are generally small. The biggest class I’ve been in had about 25 students. I feel that teachers in public schools are more experienced, as better skills are needed when explaining concepts to bigger groups of students.


Could you tell me a little about your host family?

I had a really nice host family. They were very friendly. Cambridge Network did a great job providing detailed information about host families for me to choose from, so that I could choose one that fits me the best.

My host family taught me a lot. My host dad was the first person I would turn to whenever I made a mistake or had a question. He always explained things to me very patiently. Even though China is a very international country now, the culture difference still exists. It’s been extremely helpful having someone like my host parents to walk me through the challenges I faced when I first came here. I was very lucky to be hosted by a multi-cultural family – my host dad was Italian, my host mom was Jewish, and their daughter was adopted from China. We were all very interested in different cultures and they loved to have me introducing Chinese culture to them.


How was your experience with Cambridge Network staff?

They were very helpful and friendly – especially Michelle, which was my on-the-ground support coordinator. She was as a bridge between me and my host family. There was a small conflict between me and my host family when I first arrived, but Michelle gave me lots of advice and helped make everything work out perfectly.

The events Cambridge Network held were also very helpful about letting students better enjoy their lives in the U.S. as well as exploring and gaining new experiences. We went skiing, for example, in the winter. We also had great parties to celebrate important occasions. I really appreciate all the help and support from Cambridge Network, especially those monthly check-ins. Michelle was more like a friend to me.


Did you attend one of Cambridge Network’s orientations?

Yes. I remember learning about how American life was going to be, what were the expectations to live in a host family, and what were the things we need to obey or to play on it at the orientation. The orientation was a great opportunity for me to get to know other students as well. I also got to make friends from Vietnam and China during the orientation.


When you decided to come to the U.S., did you have any fears or relevant difficulties?

I’m not going to lie – I did have a little bit fear before I came. I was very confident on myself when I came here, but was worried about the language barrier as I’ve never actually been in an English environment. I was worried about whether I could understand my teachers or not, and if I could prepare myself well for the tests.  Thankfully, I adapted and got used to the new environment in a month or two. Another concern was about safety. My parents have never been to the U.S., but Cambridge Network did a great job assuring my safety and connecting me with my host family on time.

This is not really a fear, but another thing to think about is how to live with a host family. Host parents are our parents, but not our actual parents. They may have their own culture and rules. Communication is essential – we need to let them know more about us, while we need to learn more about them, thus we can work together on a plan or agreeing on rules that work best for all parties.


You are going to University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Congratulations! Could you tell us how you prepared for the college applications?

The first thing I must say is: don’t be afraid to talk to our college counselors – it’ll definitely be helpful when it comes to choosing colleges. They know more about the colleges in the area and they can help us find the best fits. Another tip: it’s better to get the SAT and TOEFL scores ready ahead of time.

More importantly – join more clubs! A lot of college administrators focus not only on our scores but also the extracurricular activities. They want to see if we have something we really like or really focus on, especially if the activity is related to the major we’re going to study. I also talked to alumnus graduated from certain colleges to learn more about their experiences in those schools.


Could you give share a few tips for the students who are looking to study abroad? 

Don’t be afraid to speak up! People aren’t going to judge us based on our accent or grammar; instead, they will correct us if we made a mistake, and help us improve our English. Don’t be afraid to make friends from different culture, because that’s the best way for us to learn and adapt to the culture and to improve our English. Another tip is to talk to our teachers more often – they’re always more than happy to help us. Also, don’t forget to talk to our parents, as they’re going to miss us so much when we’re away. Last but not the least, keep in touch with Cambridge Network. They’re our friends, not someone who supervises us in addition to our host family. They can be super helpful in most occasions, especially when dealing with a conflict between our host family and us.

At the end of the day, I want to suggest one more time: join more school clubs and sport teams! The schools have so much to offer – just join and try things out!