CORRECTION: Ashkan Shamaei has been misquoted in the sentence “school teachers are allowed to hit students if they do something wrong.” He would like to clarify: “I never said teachers are allowed to hit people. I said some teachers hit students.”
[Originally published January 19, 2014]
Although all University High School (UHS) students are surrounded by American cultural influences, many are predominantly under the influence of their native cultures when they are at home. There are several students at our school who have recently moved to Irvine and are struggling to find a balance between their own cultures and the one they are being exposed to in Irvine. Sword & Shield interviewed three UHS students from various backgrounds to hear about their unique experiences. Check out the pictures accompanying the interviews to learn about some symbols that are representative of each respective culture!
Ashkan Shamaei (So.) – Persian
Ashkan Shamaei moved from Iran to the United States two years ago when his family qualified for the immigration lottery. An immigration lottery grants a selection of immigrants the opportunity to get a visa and move out of the country. Shamaei’s parents decided to move because they wanted to provide a better education for their son. In Iran, Shamaei explained, the school system does not have a sports program, and the teachers are unfair. In his school in Iran, he said, “school teachers are allowed to hit students if they do something wrong.” He has observed that students here have more freedom in the classroom, particularly with speech. Though this could lead to disrespect toward teachers, it fulfills students’ First Amendment right. Now that he lives in an environment where he does have the freedom to voice his opinion, Shamaei realizes how oppressive Iran really was.
Although Shamaei now lives in the U.S., he and his family still honor and celebrate Persian traditions. In Iran, one of the biggest celebrations is Nowruz (Persian New Year). He said, “All Persians celebrate [Nowruz], even if they are out of the country.” His family also tries to respect the Muslim dress code. Shamaei said it is hard for his mom to dress in public. In Iran, women wear hijabs, which are scarves that cover their hair, because their culture deems that a woman’s hair is precious and should not be exposed in public. Both men and women dress conservatively, covering their skin whenever possible. Even though these values contradict American values, Shamaei and his family choose to stick to them. Despite the differences between the American and Persian cultures, Shamaei is happy to live in America because he feels free.
Mu Zhang (So.) – Chinese
Mu Zhang and his family moved to the United States last August because they wanted a safer, cleaner environment to live in. He finds the education system in America vastly different from the education system in China. He said, in China “if [a student] wants to go to a prestigious university [he or she] needs to excel on the final test in 12th grade. One test will define [a student’s] life.” Zhang said that in China, students cannot choose courses, and there are more than eight classes every day in Primary School. Overall, Zhang finds the schoolwork in China is a lot more rigorous than the schoolwork here.
Not only is it more rigorous, but it is also more exhausting. Students in China never change classes during the day. Instead, the teachers are the ones who change classrooms for each period. Students in China also get out of class really late. Zhang said, “In my middle school, students got out of class around 6 or 7. In high school, it is around 9. The break system in China works similar to America, but when students are on breaks, students tend to get triple homework.” Although adapting to a new culture is hard and has changed Zhang’s lifestyle completely, he enjoys living in America.
Sergey Konovalov (Fr.) – Russian
Sergey Konovalov came to the United States last year for a better education and for a new life experience. One of the hardest aspects of the transition for Konovalov was attempting to bond with and adjust to the people in America. He said it was hard for him to get to know people and make new friends because of the language barrier. Despite the hardships, Konovalov did make friends by using as much English as he could on an everyday basis, talking to people frequently and listening to as much English as possible. Konovalov said that compared to the people in Russia, the people in the United States are a lot friendlier, and their openness has helped him adjust to the new environment.
Diversity is prevalent at UHS, but each unique culture is not often recognized. These three foreign students have given us a taste of their culture and shown us that adapting to a new culture and new environment is a difficult experience.
By JESSICA TSAI