International Student Reflections

Barry Xue came to St. Stephen’s as an 8th grade boarding student from the People’s Republic of China. Barry said of himself, “There is no way of being more Chinese than I am.” He was "Gaokao-oriented" when he and his family made the decision that he would come to the United States to live and study. Upon arriving at St. Stephen’s, he found the 8th grade to be “shocking and very different.” He felt supported by his advisor, teachers, outdoor program coach and dorm staff. However, despite the structure and assistance, he felt “stuck here” during his first two years. He had a hard time in the first few years reaching out and making connections. He learned to move out of his comfort zone after the first two years.

As Barry reflected on his experiences at St. Stephen’s during his fifth year at the school (his senior year), he said it would have been good to know about the “invisible rules” when he first arrived. He said he made a lot of mistakes at the beginning. According to the assessment of other members of the community, Barry has been a success during his time on The Hill. He served as a residential proctor for two years, setting a responsible example for other younger boarding students. He worked hard and did well in school and extracurricular activities. Most importantly of all, he learned to be authentically himself. He has not had to change his real identity, which is the most important thing he brought to the boarding school experience.

As Barry looked back on his time at St. Stephen’s, he said that his friends were very important to him. He was able to build relationships across age, language and cultural groups. As a student, he thought often of finding a balance between skill development/academic performance and working on his own personal and social goals. He said that the “pressure and stereotype factors” were always present, but he was able to manage them. Two keys to being happy and successful were learning the rules to follow and meeting the expectations of teachers. For him, the highlights of the St. Stephen’s boarding program were that everyone knows each other and “people's stories are shared.” That sharing, he said, builds bridges… and those bridges help educate people. He noted that the school did not try to change domestic students or try to make international students more like them. Instead, students are taught to make a concerted effort to get to know each other, and they benefited greatly from that knowledge.

Barry offered several tips to help international students find the right boarding school and achieve happiness once they get there:

  1. Research schools and apply carefully.
  2. Visit schools, to get an idea of what the experience might be like.
  3. After arriving as a student, find supporters in the first year. Try the advisor, coaches and teachers. Be resourceful and open to support of all kinds. Don't be judgmental. People want to help you. Accept that assistance and don’t be ashamed of needing it.
  4. Know there are written rules and “invisible rules.” Know that an “invisible rule” is more customized for you. If you aren't a party-person, for example, you don't have to focus on that specific area. Everyone has their own way of interaction and each person develops his/her own principles, which guide the rules. Principles and rules coexist and they interact to produce the outcome. Barry noted one “invisible rule” from 8th grade, which was to participate in class. The emphasis on being active was important, even if students had only small things to say. Barry worked to find a balance between participation and actual contribution, and that became his principle in the classrooms.
  5. Learn from your mistakes… from start to finish.
  6. Be prepared to take advantage of opportunities when they are presented to you.
  7. Interact with a broad range of people. Don't worry about being “serious friends.” The interactions are enough. Share your stories with others and hear their stories as well.
  8. Be aware of what is happening in terms of losses and gains. Do not be overwhelmed by either. Gaining knowledge is important, but each individual is developing on his/her own; losses and gains in schools cannot be the final measure. A successful boarding experience is learning knowledge but also acquiring the skills needed to stabilize yourself. This creates endless possibilities of what a person can become.
St. Stephen’s Episcopal School has worked for 25 years to create a supportive international program. To borrow a quote from Tinker Salstonstall, who worked for years at Tabor Academy, “We admit students who have the capacity to be successful here. Then it is up to us to create the conditions that allow them to be successful.”
Address: 6500 St. Stephen's Dr., Austin, TX 78746
Phone: (512) 327-1213