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OC HIGH: STUDENT NEWS AND VIEWS : New Life in U.S.: A Test of Spirit

SENIOR, TRABUCO HILLS HIGH SCHOOL

Imagine being a teen-ager and leaving your family, friends and country to study in America. You are financially supported by your parents but must now live with a guardian and start another life in a foreign country.

The language, customs, food and people are different; you must deal with new classes, making friends and filling the weekends.

Depression, alienation and confusion--especially at first--are common.

Among students who have made the leap to a new culture for the sake of an education are Tamer Shalaby and Angel Chen, both seniors at Trabuco Hills High School in Mission Viejo.

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Shalaby, 17, left Cairo to come here. In Egypt, his father is a commercial pilot, and his mother is an English teacher. He has a 15-year-old sister who plans to come to America next year. Fourteen of Tamer’s friends are also in America, either through the American Field Service program or with guardians. Tamer’s guardian is his grandmother, who plans to return to Egypt soon. After she goes, Tamer will live by himself in an apartment.

Angel Chen, 17, was born in Taipei, Taiwan. In Taiwan, her father is a businessman, and her mother is a stockbroker. Her brothers, ages 26 and 28, are car salesmen in Taipei. Her younger brother lived in America from 1991 to ’93 but left because he was unable to adjust. Angel’s family felt she would adapt more easily because she is still young. She lives with an aunt, a cousin, cousin in-law, and the couple’s baby. Angel’s mother wants her to return to her native country after finishing college.

Here are their stories.

Tamer Shalaby

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I came from Egypt to study in America, to find a better education. I am 17 years old and have been here since the summer.

I’m trying to adapt myself to the environment here because in some ways it’s different from mine. I’m using a legal document, a student visa, to be here. I’m financially supported by my parents. They send money for paying my bills and buying what I need. I call my parents once or twice every week.

A lot of my friends came to the United States this year to study. They came here to find a better education and to escape a final (graduation) test in Egypt, which is very hard.

But in my case, I plan to live here, so I had to come. I plan on attending medical school here. In my country, school is different. We don’t go to the teacher; he comes to us. And we take a different syllabus every day; it’s not the same schedule every day.

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It is difficult to make friends here, but I’m trying. I was really depressed when I first came. I had to adjust myself to being lonely here. I haven’t yet returned to visit my family, but I’m going to in the summer. The positive about studying here is seeking a better education. But the negative is leaving my family and my friends and not seeing them. I would stay here alone if there were no relatives here to live with.

I don’t have a car or a job, so I sometimes really feel bored. I can speak English, so that wasn’t a problem. I’m planning to stay here the rest of my life. I will try to major in dentistry in college. On the weekends in my country, I used to go to so many places, but I don’t here. I had nice friends, and a lot.

I miss my country very much, and I miss everything about it. My classes aren’t difficult, except for the English class. I take civics, biology AP (advanced placement), health, English and calculus AP. My hobby is playing the piano, and I used to play basketball in my country, but I don’t anymore now that I came here.

Four years ago, before moving here, I came to America to visit my relatives. I imagined America a little bit different. But it is a nice place, especially for earning money and good living.

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* Tamer Shalaby is a senior at Trabuco Hills High School in Mission Viejo.

Angel Chen

When I was about 11 years old, my aunt moved from Taiwan to the United States. She started telling us that we should try to apply for a green card, too, because Taiwan is a republic and China is Communist, and China might take over Taiwan any time.

My dad thinks the United States has better education than Taiwan; he doesn’t want to see me too stressed for school. After we visited the United States the first time, my parents planned to send me here. At that time, I was 13.

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Life here is totally different from Taiwan, and it is not easy at all.

I have lived with my aunt here for about 3 1/2 years. My mom gives her a certain amount of money for one year, for taking-care fees. My mom deposits money in my savings account, so whenever I need money I don’t have to worry about it. She also bought me a car, because she knows in United States cars are just like your legs--you have to have them. Plus, I have to fend for myself, like I have to buy my own shampoo, soap, everything.

I have met some people who have the same situation as I do. Usually, people who live here with their parents can adjust easier. When you live under somebody else’s roof, you have to know how to deal with many things by yourself.

Some of my friends have legal visas to stay here, but some of them have illegal status. The problem with that is that if they ever go back to their own country, they usually can’t get back into the States again. I was really lucky. I got my visa in Taiwan, so I am able to go back to Taiwan and get back into the States.

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During summer vacation, I usually spend three to four weeks in Taiwan. I get to see my parents, my relatives and my friends. I talk on the phone with my parents usually once a week, so they know what’s going on with me.

I remember the first day of school was the worst day I ever had. I was totally lost. Where am I? What should I do? It was not because I have a big problem with English. It was just so weird--a different culture. The different environment made me really confused.

In Taiwan, we don’t change classrooms. We have a 10-minute break after every class. And every day we have different schedules. We get out of school at 6 p.m. Here, people can get out at different times, everyone has their own locker, students don’t have to wear uniforms, no school on Saturday. Everything is different.

It has been hard for me to adjust to life here. I cry a lot, complain a lot. I really want to go back to Taiwan sometimes. In four years here, I know many people who went back to Taiwan.

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I have friends, but we don’t really “understand” each other. I attempt to talk, I try to learn.

Pressures make you have no space to relax. In the first half of my first year here, I didn’t really have any social life. But now I have many friends. I go out very often, and I do everything on the weekends. I also volunteer in the hospital and senior citizens’ home. I have learned plenty of things in the United States, and I want to be able to contribute whatever I can to this society.

I think education in the United States is not easier than in Taiwan, but they are different systems. Here, you have to have lots of information. This made big changes in my life and also changed my “thought” of life.

The positive points of study here are you can get many kinds of educations, and you can choose whatever you want to do. You are the master of your life. But because of this, many people don’t know what they should do, and they don’t see the importance of education. In Taiwan, parents and the school set up your future--junior high, high school, university; simple but banal.

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My grades are not bad. I didn’t take any honor classes when I was a freshmen and sophomore. At that time, I didn’t really understand how the system worked. When I was a junior, I started to take honor classes, started more challenges. I am doing all right at school. Now I have English 4, civics, calculus AP (advanced placement) and physics AP. I am also a math tutor. I really like this job; it’s a lot of fun.

I think I am going to major in international business in college. I can speak three languages. I will try my best to use them. I am going to apply to as many University of California schools as I can. I think using what you learn is the most important thing.

I had to go through many obstacles. I failed so many things, I had to be depressed. But I am good, now. I have learned a lot of things and made many friends.

* Angel Chen is a senior at Trabuco Hills High School in Mission Viejo.

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