This week marks the 18th annual International Education Week (IEW), a joint initiative between the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Education, which celebrates and promotes the benefits of international education and exchange programs worldwide. Initially created so that America could inspire its students to travel abroad, IEW now encourages and supports foreign students interested in making the leap to study in the United States. Today, IEW is celebrated in over 100 countries, including New Zealand.
Join us as we profile kiwi student experiences in America this week. Today we chat with Alisha Huang.
Alisha Huang is a graduating high school senior from Diocesan School for Girls, Auckland.
She is planning to attend university in the United States to complete a business degree in marketing or finance, as well as dance. Alisha also had the opportunity to take part in a dance program in New York over this American summer.
Would you be able to describe your dance program, and how it led to your current plans for further study?
The Radio City Rockettes Summer Intensive is a program for aspiring dancers over the American summer from mid-June to August. Entry was via audition and I was fortunate to be one of the few international applicants accepted. Dancers are given the opportunity to train under the guidance of professional dancers and perform actual Rockette choreography. Full-time training definitely tested my perseverance but also testified to just how much I love to dance. The program has led me to pursue a career in dance in the future and learning from the Rockettes showed me how important it is to keep training through college. Now when selecting universities I always ensure they have a strong performing arts department and/or have training facilities nearby.
What are the biggest challenges you have had to overcome in the USA?
The biggest challenge for me was definitely the constant high intensity training we had every day. The training regime was a lot tougher than I had expected and I wasn’t used to dancing from 9am-6pm in heels every day! By the end of day one I had raw blisters on both my feet, so going back every morning already in pain but having to do it all over again was by far the biggest challenge. We were told at the start of the program that the mental obstacle would be the most important obstacle to overcome, and pushing through aching feet and learning how to keep training every day, despite the pain, was challenging to say the least.
What was your biggest highlight or favorite achievement, both in and out of school?
My biggest highlight of the program was being able to learn actual Rockette choreography that I watched as a little kid. I think almost every little girl has dreamed of being a Rockette dressed in sequins dancing in Radio City Music Hall at some point. Growing up, I was definitely no different. Being a part of the program made me feel I was one step closer to my childhood dream which was extremely rewarding. As a part of our program, we learnt three Rockette dances, one of which was the parade of the wooden soldiers; the only dance to be performed by every Rockette in history. Learning that dance was a really special highlight, especially knowing it was a piece of timeless choreography that has been performed for more than ninety years.
Tell us about any interesting cultural tidbits that you noticed in your time in the USA? What are the biggest cultural differences between NZ and the USA?
Something I found really interesting was the way Americans would pronounce everyday words. For example, the girls I trained with would say “wah-ter” for water instead of “woh-ter” and “car-ramel” for caramel instead of “ca-ramel”. Small things like that were comical and made me realise the differences between the two cultures despite both being English speaking countries. I also found New York City sleeps a lot later than New Zealand does; it certainly doesn’t get the title “the city that never sleeps” from nowhere. The streets would still be bustling at 11pm and waking up in the middle of the night you can always hear cars driving somewhere no matter how early or late it was. I think the biggest cultural difference is that New York is more of a metropolitan city than any in New Zealand. People live in apartments or townhouses and commute on the subway instead of living in singular houses and driving themselves.
What universities are you applying for? Why do you want to study in the USA?
I am currently applying to New York University, multiple campuses at the University of California as well as the University of Southern California. I want to study in the U.S. as it presents a broader variety of opportunities and courses. In particular, the colleges I’m applying to have excellent programs which prepare their students for employment after graduation and focus on getting students involved in their chosen industry while they are still completing their studies. As well as excellent courses, I was attracted by the holistic college experience of studying in the States: staying in a dorm, joining a sorority, being on a dance team, meeting people from all around the world. To me, studying in the U.S. presents much more than just exceptional academics, it’s about setting students up for the world and embracing all the diverse opportunities available.
Are there any issues you anticipate facing? Are there any goals you hope to achieve in the USA?
I think a potential issue is converting the New Zealand secondary schools curriculum to an American high school equivalent. I am currently completing the New Zealand NCEA program in school which is something American colleges are slowly getting to grips with, but there are major differences. We don’t have a GPA out of 4.0, our grades are ranked by Excellence, Merit and Achieved and there is no such thing as AP classes in New Zealand.
What are the challenges in your application process for your institution?
Writing personal essays has been something quite challenging for me as it is unlike anything we have done in our English curriculum. Word limits also mean I have been challenged to make my writing concise yet still well developed. I’ve also struggled to find time to study for standardized testing on top of my school work and dancing.
What are the differences in your applications as a dancer versus general applications?
I want to do a business degree in marketing or finance for my undergraduate degree so the application process hasn’t been all that different from a general application. In the dance courses I have looked in to, all of them have required an audition which is viewed and judged by a separate faculty to the general board of admissions. Most institutions allow international students to submit a video audition for convenience; however, this is done as a separate submission to the general application. Being a dancer has definitely contributed to my application and allowed me to apply for both a business and dance degree.
Do you have any parting thoughts or advice to give to prospective students?
Keep chasing your dreams – it will be worth it!
Follow #IEW2017 to participate in the virtual conversations happening online around International Education Week.
Additionally, are you thinking about studying in America? There are thousands of opportunities for motivated students! Connect with EducationUSA New Zealand on Facebook (facebook.com/educationusanz) and Twitter (@educationusanz), and be sure to check out our free resources (nz.usembassy.gov) available to help you get started!