Mini in Minnesota: Three Years in the Land of 10,000 Lakes

by Sarah Tolman, F-1 High School Academic Program Coordinator

Luorongxin Yuan, also known as “Mini,” was only a ninth grader at her school in Zhenjiang, China, when she found out about the possibility of studying abroad. Eager to improve her English and experience an American high school, she chose to apply for a program here in the U.S. and was placed in Faribault, Minnesota.

“In China, I live in a place that’s pretty south, so it’s always warm and I had never seen snow in my whole life. That first year, I was really excited for the snow.”

Although the winters turned out to be a little bit colder and longer than she expected, Mini was charmed by this small Midwestern town and couldn’t bear to leave after one year. In order to stay, she applied for Greenheart’s F-1 High School Academic Program and is now beginning her third year at Bethlehem Academy in Faribault.

As a third-year international student, Mini is a seasoned veteran. She has gotten involved in many different activities at school, including basketball, track and multiple volunteer clubs. Her love for helping others and nature (in her words, she’s “nutty about the environment”) inspired her to get involved with the Greenheart Club. She’s helped out with watering trees at the local nature center, and worked with her school’s Key Club to do highway clean-ups and other volunteering activities for the community. But her involvement with Greenheart doesn’t end there! In the spring of 2014, Mini went on a Greenheart Trip to Hawaii with a group of international students. This, among other trips she has taken around the U.S., has been a highlight of her time here. The students explored Hawaii, learned to surf, and participated in volunteer activities like cleaning up beaches and working on a taro farm, which ended up turning into a mud fight!

Though it’s not as famous as Hawaii, California or New York, Mini is glad she ended up in Minnesota; she loves the quiet of living in a small town and has enjoyed the experience of getting to know her host family. In addition to having two host siblings and two foster siblings in her home, Mini’s host mom also runs a day-care! It can be chaotic with so many kids running around, Mini says, but she’s grown to like it.

When addressing the challenges she faced when starting school in the U.S., Mini says her first hurdle was the lack of a nap time in her school. “In China, there’s a really long lunch break, it’s almost two hours, so after lunch you can take a nap. Here you rush through everything, you have your lunch for twenty minutes… I would get so sleepy! That might be the toughest thing I encountered when I first got here.” As she got used to the fast-paced schedule, Mini started to recognize aspects of American high school that she really enjoyed. “The classroom [here] is more fun, you get to do more group activities, you don’t just, like, sit in your desks forever. I also really enjoy the clubs and the sports.”

Mini emphasizes that she has worked hard to improve her English and her accent. Though at first it took a long time to get through all of her homework, over time she got faster at reading and writing in English and now feels very comfortable.  Of course the adjustment didn’t happen overnight, but Mini offers valuable advice for future international students about how to make the best of your time abroad:

“Just be open. Really there’s no boundaries set there already; It’s like you set a boundary by yourself by not talking to anyone, just because you think they all have their little circle you can’t break into. But it’s not true, you have to talk.”

spirit day

Mini and some classmates during spirit week

Clearly, this strategy of being open and outgoing has resulted in a vibrant and exciting experience for Mini in Minnesota. She’s made friends through the different activities, sports and events she’s been involved in, and has truly immersed herself in the culture of the high school. This year, in addition to impatiently awaiting her senior prom, Mini looks forward to graduating from Bethlehem Academy with the rest of her peers. Her college visits and applications are already underway and she continues to work hard with the goal of getting accepted to her dream school, Johns Hopkins University. If that doesn’t work out, she’d be happy to go to the University of Minnesota too! She hopes to study medicine and also take classes in environmental studies, incorporating both her desire to become a doctor and her love for the environment.

According to Mini, studying abroad is a “life-changing experience!”