Every year, a new cohort of students from all over China comes to attend King's Academy. What compels them to fly across the continent to attend a small boarding school in Jordan?
Taking the leap to study on your own in a foreign country is no mean feat, especially if you know little to nothing about the region the school is located in. So how did these students hear about King’s Academy, and what made them take this leap of faith?
In most cases, it is the school’s own alumni that are introducing new students and their families to King’s.
When she was in the fourth grade, Yudian Zhao ’24 heard about King’s from a book her mother had given her. In that book, aptly named I Went to High School in Jordan at the Age of 13, Ning Bao ’14 records her four years’ experience studying at King’s. “After reading it, I decided I wanted to come here,” Zhao says. “I felt like it was a special school.”
Duanduan Lin ‘20 introduced the school to Yiran Zhao ’21, as a place of “unique diversity, one that respects and appreciates other cultures.”
Ziqi Yu ’23, from Guangdong, heard about King’s Academy through a family friend whose daughter, Yuxuan Cao ’18 had attended the Academy. As they spoke highly of King’s, her parents decided it was a good idea to go, and enrolled her in Summer at King’s, and eventually, at King’s as a freshman.
Another Guangdong native, Ruofei Shang ’21, says she had no knowledge of Jordan before coming to King’s. She didn’t know where the country was and could only read about it on Baidu – a Chinese search engine. “And here I am, four years later, with extensive knowledge of Jordan and its culture,” she says.
Shang shares her own reasons for coming: “I did not want to live through the tedious academic life of Chinese public schools, where grades are the only thing that determine your future.” King’s Academy had a unique environment which presented Shang with the opportunity to prepare for her future by becoming a “more unique candidate for universities, as a Chinese student studying in the Middle East.”
King’s also became the place that allowed Shang to explore her interests and passions. “I was given the opportunity to fully develop my hobbies,” she says. “For my entire life, I thought I would become a doctor in the future,” but having left the pressure from school that she felt in China, she managed to find her “genuine interests in cultural studies and media and communications.” In her four years at King’s, Shang has taken part in musicals, visual arts, student leadership, and any other opportunity for growth that she could get her hands on.
For Yudian Zhao, it was her “dream to study abroad” in addition to Bao’s book that pushed her to commit. She was also immediately welcomed into a group on WeChat — a Chinese messaging app — for King’s Chinese parents and students, which made her feel like she was already part of a community.
For Yu, it was the opportunity to learn English in an American-style school, at which English is the language of instruction. “In a non-English speaking environment, it was boring to learn English, because it was all memorization — just words,” says Yu.
Moving to a new country comes with its fair share of challenges, from language barriers to homesickness. But at King’s, it isn’t long before Chinese students start feeling at home. Between their peers and the King’s faculty, the Chinese students immediately feel a warm welcome upon their arrival at King’s.
“The students are really friendly here, especially the Chinese students,” says Yudian Zhao. “Take Yiran Zhao, for example. She’s also from Hangzhou, and she had good chats with my mom. She became like an older sister for me, bringing gifts, taking care of me.”
Others also find comfort in the faculty at King’s, and almost all name Japanese faculty member Ryuji Yamaguchi as a significant source of support. Yiran Zhao says, “he made us feel safe, and gave us the confidence to introduce and share our culture and history with local students.”
For many students, this is especially true during the Lunar New Year, one of the most important holidays in Chinese culture.
“Every year, we would have a potluck dinner for the entire King’s community,” says Shang. “I have been cooking for all four years and was able to make boba tea and serve it for weekend brunch. We would also decorate the entire dining hall with Chinese New Year decorations,” she adds.
The celebration of Chinese culture extends beyond the festivities. “The school supports our ideas; I started a Chinese club with an Arab-American student who studies Chinese,” says Shang. She adds that she would host hot pot dinners at faculty apartments, inviting students from different countries. “I’ve also shared many of my recipes with students, faculty, and even the dining hall.”
Home Away from Home
In spring 2020, as the COVID-19 epidemiological situation worldwide worsened and travel restrictions went into effect, many international students at King’s found themselves unable to return home for the summer. Most of these students were Chinese.
While their hopes of spending the summer with their families were dashed, those who remained on campus ended up having an unforgettable summer experience. Yu made close new friends whom she might not have spoken to during the school year, and discovered a passion for a sport she had never heard of: volleyball.
“Mr. Ryuji taught me how to play in one minute and said ‘okay, you’re good to play now!’ “Yu laughs.“ It’s really hard to describe what it felt like, but every time I think back to that memory, it feels like home.“
The Fall Green Zone
Once the Green Zone was announced for the fall 2020 semester, students had to choose between staying at home and learning online or joining the campus "bubble." Most of the Chinese students decided on the latter, a decision they say was well worth it.
For Yu, it was mainly the opportunity for in-person learning that made her join the Green Zone. “You feel freer in in-person classes, because you can naturally ask questions and talk in class,” she says. “Being online, you always have internet issues or you can’t hear the students, so you feel alone.”
Yiran Zhao spoke of newfound friendships she made because of the Green Zone, and how staying on campus gave her the opportunity to focus on her own self-development. “I became more confident and outgoing while I’ve been in the Green Zone, and I’m grateful for that,” she says. “I had the confidence to perform ukulele at an open mic and meet strangers while playing volleyball. I also explored dance, football, basketball and chess.”
For others, particularly seniors, it was a chance to see friends one last time before graduating. “Although I could have been with family, I wanted to cherish the time I spent with my friends and classmates in Jordan,” Shang says. “I am well aware of the possibility that some of us might not see each other for years after graduating.”
While graduation is right around the corner for Shang, Zhao, and the other seniors, the underclassmen look forward to more years of growth and discovery. They can all agree, however, that what started as a leap of faith to an unknown country has developed into a second home. For them, King’s has become a place that not only celebrated their culture, but also allowed them to explore who they are and who they want to be.