The Foreign Exchange Student Experience

Molly DeFilippo ‘17, Grace Doerfler, and Isabelle Schmeler ‘18, Features Editor and Staff Writers

The Foreign Exchange Student Experience


Oakland Catholic students are scattered across Pittsburgh — and across the world. Hailing from Russia to China to Vietnam, the high schoolers who travel thousands of miles to attend OCHS bring with them a rich cultural background to share with the community. But what brings these students to the Oakland Catholic community, and how are their experiences in American high schools? Here’s a look at Oakland from the eyes of the foreign exchange students.


Quy Ngoc Tran


By: Grace Doerfler

When Quy Ngoc Tran came to Oakland Catholic for the first time, she left her home in Vietnam, her parents, and a younger brother for an American high school. Using the basic English phrases she had been learning since sixth grade, she tried to make her way in a school where administrators, teachers, and students all spoke an unfamiliar language. “I was nervous [to come to the U.S.] because language is a big problem that obstructs my communication with other people,” she recalls. Instead of sitting in one classroom all day while teachers rotated in and out, she had to learn how to navigate from class to class. A longer school day, more classes, and a very different grading system were just a few of the other adjustments Ngoc had to face. She says that in liberal arts classes especially, differences in teaching methods are crystal clear. “One of my favorite things about American class is that I like to be able to have my own opinions — and no one judges me about it. For example, in English class, I can put my own thoughts about books or articles in my papers. But in my country, when I read something and write about it, I have to put the author’s thoughts about it, not my own. The teacher could mark me wrong if I put my own opinion,” she explains.

Despite the challenges of adapting to a completely different culture, Ngoc enjoys attending Oakland Catholic. Having heard about the school from a cousin who graduated from OC, she made the decision to come see what America had to offer. She likes the all-girls environment, but outside of school, she’s not afraid to explore Pittsburgh culture. “I was excited to come to a different country and learn many new things,” she says, “but also I love shopping and America is a good place to shop!”

In all, Quy Ngoc Tran has had good experiences in the United States and at Oakland Catholic. A senior, now she is looking beyond her experiences at Oakland to what lies ahead for her — and her future certainly looks bright.


Eve Zhuang

By: Molly DeFilippo

Eve Zhuang is a senior and joins the Oakland Catholic community from China. When foreign exchange students come to the United States they often pick American names. “I picked ‘Eve’ as my American name because it looks symmetrical, and it is easy to remember.”  She started learning English when she was in seventh grade. Studying abroad is common for students in China, but very expensive because of tuition and traveling expenses. When Eve got the opportunity to come to the United States for high school she was very excited to develop her language skills and get an experience that a classroom in China would never provide. Eve was also excited to celebrate American holidays like Christmas and Halloween. She did say that she was nervous about the language barrier; although her English is very good, she was still anxious about understanding the teachers in class.

Eve’s favorite things about America are that the people are “inclusive”, everyone works together even though they are from different backgrounds, and of course the food. She also said that it is hard to be away from her family for such a long period of time but talks to them everyday through FaceTime and Skype. Although she misses her parents she likes her host parents: “They are very nice and easy going. They are generous and optimistic. They always listen to me patiently and teach me new things. Sometimes, they take me around to experience the American culture.” At OC, Eve is involved in Science Club, Theatre Club, FBLA, and many more activities.

Eve will be graduating along with all of the other seniors in May, and will stay and attend college here in the United States. The last thing I asked Eve was what she hoped to take from her experience here, she replied, “Be brave and not be ashamed to make mistakes.”


Arina Gurevich

By: Grace Doerfler

Arina Gurevich’s dream of traveling to the United States came true when she discovered Oakland Catholic. Like almost every child in her hometown of Krasnoyarsk (Siberia), she had traveled abroad extensively in Europe and Asia before deciding to attend an American high school. Based on the recommendation of her host parents, plus research that yielded good ratings for Oakland Catholic, Arina decided to attend OC.

Arina has been studying English since the age of seven. However, Russian schools are very dissimilar to American schools. “We stay with the same class all eleven years in one school,” Arina explains, “and we have only eleven classes.” Differences are broader than that, however: “American culture is very different from Russian culture,” she says. She likes the American spirit, the “simple attitude” to things, and, of course, the food.

So far, Arina enjoys attending Oakland Catholic. She describes the all-girls’ atmosphere as “very healthy” and notes, “Girls can easily understand everything.” By the time she leaves the Oakland Catholic community, she hopes to have advanced her English skills and gained more global experience. She says, “I now know so many people and it is a very nice experience because when you know more people… and travel, it makes my horizons wider. This is the most interesting year of my life yet.”


Smiley Qian

By: Isabelle Schmeler

Smiley Qian, a freshman, says the Oakland Catholic community has such a great atmosphere.  Originally from Shanghai, Smiley came to Pittsburgh in August, only ten days before the first day of school.  The first day of school is always exciting, especially coming in as a freshman, but of course there are some things to be worried about!  “I was sort of nervous about speaking another language.  I always make sure I’m careful when speaking English, it goes so fast!”  Smiley is involved with Maria Goretti, forensics, and fencing, so she always has something to do.  “The school days are much longer in China, so I’m used to staying at school longer.”  Smiley says, “Being in an all-girls environment really does benefit in so many ways.  We can learn together!”  Smiley talks about living in Pittsburgh, and how different it is from living in Shanghai.  “It’s much more calm in Pittsburgh than in Shanghai.  I always tell myself, ‘you can’t get any of this back in Shanghai, so take it all in while you can.’” Back in Shanghai, Smiley has a younger sister, who she is very excited to see over the summer when she goes back to be with her family.  As most of you already know, Smiley is always so outgoing and approachable.  She is always willing to have a conversation with anyone about anything, and that’s why we all love her!


Chloe Yueh

By: Molly DeFilippo

Sophomore, Chloe Yueh, starting learning English when she was only six years old. When Chloe found out she was getting a chance to study abroad here in the United States, it was a dream come true. “I was basically excited about everything because I’ve watched a lot of American movies and shows and I wanted to find out if the things I’ve seen in them were true.” Since this is Chloe’s first time in the United States she was a little nervous about the language barrier, just as anyone would be. Life in Taiwan is very different from Chloe’s life here. She explains that the biggest difference between schools in Taiwan and American schools is the availability to technology. “In Taiwan, usually we don’t use computers to type notes and do homework. The teachers, however, uses smart boards and powerpoint as teaching tools, too.” Another thing she mentioned was that in Taiwan she went to school from 7am to 5pm, which is quite common in Asian countries. Chloe’s favorite thing about the US is the fresh air. She explained how in Taiwan it is too crowded for her.

When Chloe was twelve she read a book about a girl named Chloe. She admired this character and thought it would be cool to be called that. So when she came to the US she chose Chloe as her American name. She did say that it was hard for her to leave her family and friends back in Taiwan but she talks to them once or twice a week. One of the most important lessons that Chloe has learned so far is how to be brave.

Chloe is involved in FBLA, Global Competence Initiative, Track, and Girls Who Code. So far life in America has been very exciting for Chloe and she enjoys the OC community and the friends she has made here.