Rex and Emilia

For our international students, the journey has been fun so far

Norfolk Collegiate has more than a dozen new international students joining our Upper School family. To celebrate their journeys and further welcome them, the Oak Connection is sitting down with them once a month. The first in the series is junior Shu “Rex” Zhang and sophomore Emilia Innvarardi.  


This is Rex's second year studying abroad, as he spent last year in Ohio. From Beijing, China, this is his first year with Norfolk Collegiate.  

Why did you pick Rex for your American name?
When I was about seven or eight years old, we were asked to pick an American name for my English class. I saw Rex and picked it.

What is something that you want to do before you return home?
I would like to experience things that I didn’t get to my first time here. In November, I have an audition for choir that I’m excited for. I would like to be both (solo and in the ensemble).

What it's like to go from being the only child to living with several children?
I live with a 14-year-old girl, 10 year-old boy and another four-year–old girl, and they drive me nuts in the mornings. Sometimes, I wish I had siblings, but not in the mornings. But it’s really fun during the weekends.

How is Hampton Roads is different from home? 
It’s quieter. You can hear more here, for example, the insects and birds outside right now. It’s really nice here. It’s bigger spaces and you pretty much have everything, where in China, it’s still developing and there isn’t the amount of space. In China, everyone lives in apartments and there is less space and less time, as everyone is always so busy and moving.

Do you have any preconceived ideas that were wrong? 
I keep asking myself, ‘Why is everyone so smart? Why don’t they study harder?’ In China, we’re taught to memorize, so here, everything is new to me. People study by themselves. In China, the teacher leads you and gets you to memorize, so they are good on tests. But nobody really understands. They know on paper, but they don’t understand. That’s why China’s educational system is the focus of so much attention. Here, the teachers teach you how to learn and understand.

How has school here compared to the school that you attended in Ohio?
Last year, it wasn’t that hard. This year, it’s much harder and everyone is taking AP (advanced placement) courses.

You are in chorus and cross country. What attracted you to these activities? 
I love running because you can see everything. I don’t have a chance to run through a forest in China, but I can do that here. If I do back home, that means that I’m lost or kidnapped.

What do you miss the most living abroad?
Two things: I like the food here, but sometimes, I miss the food from home. But I love food and the desserts here. We don’t have those (desserts) in China. Also, how people get along differently. It’s hard to get a good friend because of the culture difference. People get along differently. I have to think about what I say because it’s different.


Emilia is joining Norfolk Collegiate from Düsseldorf, Germany. This is the first study abroad for Emilia, who will be with the Collegiate family until January, when she will return home.   

Why did you decide to do a study abroad program?
I wanted to improve my English and to get more independent. In the movies, (high school) always looks so much fun and independent. This has been fun, but it’s not as much drama as in the movies. 

Why are you only here for five months?
In Germany, 10th grade is the beginning of high school, so you do a lot of review from the earlier year. I won’t miss a lot since it is a review.

What is something that you want to do before you return home?
I want to go to New York and see the Christmas tree. I’ve already done a lot of the things that I wanted to do, like go shopping and try American ice cream. (Chocolate is her favorite.) I’m looking forward to Halloween, Thanksgiving and Homecoming – we don’t have those in Germany. 

You’re on the JV Girls Volleyball team. Is that something that you participated in at home? If not, what attracted you to volleyball?
My host sister plays volleyball, so she asked me to try. We practiced a little before in Germany. I normally play badminton for fun in Germany. I’m also going to try to play basketball.

How is Hampton Roads is different from home? 
There is so much more that we can do independently at home because we have the transportation. I don’t live in a city, but there are enough buses that I can ask my parents and be more independent. I can’t do that here.

Do you have any preconceived ideas that were completely wrong about being an international student? 
I thought it would be harder. We have more homework and school work here. The classes are smaller here, and you have more tests and quizzes. In Germany, the students have to think more because there are less tests and quizzes.

What’s the most difficult part about being an international student?
Sometimes I’m scared that I’m going to say the wrong thing. I don’t like when I want to say something, but I can’t find the words.

What do you miss the most?
My family and friends and my sister. 

What do you not miss that has surprised you?
School. And I don’t miss the weather. I did enjoy going to the OBX (Outer Banks). I got here a week before school and my host family took me. 

What classes do you have here that you don’t have in Germany?
American English and Pottery. I like pottery. It’s fun. You learn something but you can relax and talk to your friends at the same time. So far, I’ve made two bowls, a bird, a seal, a turtle and a pinch pot.

What’s your favorite food here that you haven’t had before?
I love Lucky Charms. I eat them every morning. I’ve already told my host family that they are sending them to me in Germany.

What foods do you miss the most?
The pancakes are different in Germany. They are taller and sweeter and sometimes they put fruit in them, like apples.