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This post is the second in our series of student profiles that represent the kinds of students who find success within of our mission-appropriate enrollment each year.  Today, we are focusing on the very important and valued international student population at Oak Hill Academy–a key feature of our unique campus life each year.  International students are attracted to study in the U.S. for a variety of reasons, but here are a few of the main themes:

  • Entry into U.S. universities and colleges is more practical coming from a U.S. high school.  At Oak Hill Academy, our College Counseling department is very personal in helping students through this process.  Our international families are especially appreciative of this highly individual approach.
  • Many of our students report that their home educational systems didn’t value the kind of learning and personal development they were seeking.  They see the U.S. system as far more holistic and a better fit for their personal aspirations.
  • Some of our international families are first and foremost seeking a safe, nurturing environment that may not be easy to find at home.
  • The goal of developing independence and maturity is a theme shared by both our international and domestic students.  It is just much more dramatic for our students who are thousands of miles away from home, and might speak little English when they arrive here.

The current school year at Oak Hill Academy is quite typical:  Nearly 25% of our student body represents 16 foreign countries around the globe.  This kind of diversity, coupled with a small student body of 150, means that we offer a tremendously unique campus life opportunity.  For our international students, we offer a welcoming and secure introduction to the U.S. educational system and culture.  It is very much a “win-win.”

Today’s Student Profile comes from a pair of international students who have attended Oak Hill Academy for more than two years each.  Both students are from mainland China: Jingyi “Carritah” Cai is a senior from Xiamen, China, in her fourth year at OHA;  Alice Wang, also a senior, began attending Oak Hill Academy  as a sophomore in 2016, after spending a year with her adoptive host family in Northern Virginia.

For Carritah, choosing Oak Hill Academy from among her many initial options came down to our size and location.  “My family and I liked the fact that Oak Hill Academy is a small boarding school.  Since I didn’t have a family here, the most important thing to my family was to find a place that can ensure my safety. Oak Hill Academy’s location means that we make our small community together and there are no strangers–I figured it would be easier for me to bond with people.”  Alice reports that safety was her family’s number one priority, too.  “Boarding school became an option because my family wanted a broader social and cultural experience, beyond what my host family could provide. But it had to be a safe environment or my parents would not agree to it.”

Both students point to the benefits of adjusting to a new culture and the U.S. style of education in a small school.  Alice says, “Another priority for me choosing boarding school was for personal growth–independence and the ability to relate to people from a variety of backgrounds. Oak Hill Academy helped me to broaden my circle to meet more people from other cultures and since we all live together, we have plenty to share.”   Carritah agrees, but points to an interesting byproduct of boarding school life:  empathy and acceptance of others.  “Living together, we have enough time and opportunity to see each others’ merits and flaws. We come to accept those flaws in others and ourselves, but working to improve them is how I’ve learned to build strong relationships at Oak Hill Academy.”  As Alice observes, “School and academic achievement have always been important to me, but at Oak Hill Academy, I’ve also placed an additional importance on personal goals, like getting along with people who have different views, and taking care of myself outside of the classroom by becoming more athletic.”  Alice continues, “I feel that I used to be a selfish person.  I was spoiled and did not think about others as much as I should have. Attending Oak Hill Academy, I realized that everyone has important dreams, not just me.  I started to do a lot of community service work in and outside of the school campus, and in the process I learned a lot about myself and who I want to be as a person.”  

Alice also points to many educational benefits of the relational, small class environment provided here. “Academically, teachers pay close attention to every student in class–the small teacher-to-student ratio ensures attention and focus.  For me, this was also important as I became more fluent and English became more natural. The relationships I had with my teachers gave me confidence to ask for help when I needed it. Teachers are always available for one-on-one afterschool help.  My experience at Oak Hill Academy has helped me discover my potential and interest in learning business as my planned major next year in college.”  

Oak Hill Academy’s structured environment, on the conservative side for most U.S. college prep boarding schools, was another attractive feature for these two international students’ families. One of the biggest concerns Chinese families have, I’ve learned, is the ability to concentrate academically here. Transitioning from a very test-oriented educational system (found in China, for sure, but also in the British System) into what is accurately seen as a more balanced system of critical thinking and exploration, international families often worry about rigor and focus.  Carritah points out, “My parents liked the limits placed on the students here (things like mandatory lights-out times, dedicated study hours in the dorms each evening, and chaperoned trips off campus). These limitations teach us to do the right things, and keep us out of troubles. Oak Hill Academy is where I learned to do things that are productive and good for me–there is not a lot of ‘wasted’ time.”

Both Alice and Carritah have built impressive transcripts filled with interesting classes, clubs, sports and excellent grades.  These transcripts, along with the support of Mr. Hill and Mrs. Groves in our College Counseling Department, have opened up a lot of university opportunities for both of them.  Watch below as they discuss their college plans: