International Students Rise to the Challenge of School During the Pandemic

by St. Andrew's Communications Staff
The COVID-19 pandemic has had an enormous impact on the learning of every St. Andrew’s student. For the 21 students in the International Student Program, that disruption has taken many forms.
For a number of students, like Lixin (Michelle) Qin '21, it has meant not seeing her family in a year while she remains in the United States, attending a school which has been almost exclusively virtual since the middle of March. For others, like HuiYaXin (Jasmine) Wang '24, it has meant starting a new school from half a world away without getting to meet her classmates or teachers face-to-face. 

About a dozen students in the International Program are learning from China while the rest are in Maryland. All together, about 7% of St. Andrew’s students in grades 9-12 are part of the International Student Program. While the majority of them hail from mainland China, the school has had students from South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Mexico.

“I am a little bit tired but also excited,” said Jasmine in November. “Right now I have an excuse to stay up late because I need to attend classes.” For Jasmine, it’s a 13-hour time difference, meaning her school day begins at 10 p.m. and doesn’t end until 4 a.m. That hasn’t been the only challenge, of course. “It’s hard to communicate with students in America. We already have a different language and culture. Right now, it’s impossible to make any local friends.”

Jasmine’s teachers have been impressed with her effort and accomplishments.

“Jasmine has been a diligent worker from day one,” said her English teacher, Liz Kiingi. “Learning to write in English when it is not your first language is tough. Trying to learn it halfway around the world without being immersed in an English-speaking environment is even harder. Figuring out the meanings and nuances of so many words is tough, but she is persevering [and] has made significant progress.”
 
Michelle has had a different challenge. Like many of her classmates who have been at St. Andrew’s for years, she has not been able to return home.
 
“There were days when I felt really homesick because this is the first time for me to be away from my family in such a long time,” Michelle said. “Although I live with my host family, I still miss my family a lot and I know they have been worrying about me due to the pandemic. I normally FaceTime my family every night and this helps a lot.”
 
Despite being away from home for so long and unable to see many of her friends in person, Michelle had some positive things to say about her experience this year.
 
“I would say all of my teachers are doing a great job in online learning in general and I love how everyone stays positive and makes the best out of it during the pandemic,” Michelle said.

Michelle’s teachers feel the same way about her and the attitude she has brought to school.

“This is my second year teaching her and she is my top student in Advanced Placement Statistics,” her Math teacher Gregg Ponitch said. “In the classroom she is a role model; never loses focus, never falls behind, always an advocate for herself, always works well with whomever she is assigned to partner with. I see incredible energy and an enthusiastic readiness to learn.”

“I did not teach (Michelle) before this year but I wish I had,” said Phyllis Robinson, her Advanced Placement Biology teacher. “She consumes the material in AP Biology eagerly and is always ready for more. In short, she is a model student. To be away from home for over a year now is amazing, yet she has not let what must be emotional moments for her to interfere with her academics. I have developed a very high regard for her work ethic, and for her as a person.”
 
Jasmine, meanwhile, is looking forward to eventually coming to America and continuing learning on campus.
 
“St. Andrew’s has given me an opportunity to have a meeting with some medical experts which is so awesome,” Jasmine said. “I am really looking forward to learning neuroscience and I hope I can have one best friend.”
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St. Andrew’s Episcopal School is a private, coeducational college preparatory day school for students in preschool (Age 2) through grade 12, located in Potomac, Maryland.