Johnson: Excited to continue learning, experiencing
Published 10:46 am Wednesday, January 14, 2015
Hongwei Cui — known to friends as Johnson — grew up in China, but he saw snow for the first time, was crowned homecoming king, attended his first prom and was baptized during his time studying in Austin. And his experiences in the U.S. are far from over.
Johnson, 18, is a foreign exchange student from Zhuhai, China, living in Austin to study at Pacelli Catholic Schools. He first came to Austin for the second semester of the 2013-14 school year and came back to Austin to study the entire 2014-15 school year and graduate in the spring.
“I like [it] here and I like this style,” Johnson said. “Like to learn something, different languages, different cultural, everything, so this is why I come here.”
‘He wants to learn’
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Johnson quickly became an active member of the Pacelli community. He joined the track team, the cross country team, the high school student council as an international student representative, and the drama team. He has enjoyed going on different activities International Student Facilitator Calalina Ferreira-Truong sets up for the students.
“He wants to make a difference in every aspect, so he wants to participate, he wants to learn,” she said.
Johnson’s school in China doesn’t have prom or homecoming, so he was a bit nervous leading up to the events.
“The first time I go to prom, kind of nervous, but lots of people were there, and with my friends it was very good,” Johnson said.
Johnson was also proud to be crowned Pacelli’s homecoming king, which Ferreira-Truong said is the first for an international student at the school. However, it didn’t surprise those who know Johnson.
“Everybody is friends with Johnson,” Ferreira-Truong said.
His host mother Jamie Price, who has looked after Johnson with her husband, David, agreed people feel comfortable around Johnson, and she described him as a social butterfly.
Johnson credits the Prices with helping him get accumulated to life in the U.S.
“At the beginning of the year, when I don’t know, like, how to say the English word, and then they just write out the English word,” Johnson said.
Johnson’s native language is Chinese, but his English has approved since coming to the United States.
“Before, it’s difficult to talk to someone, kind of difficult speaking, and then [you] improve every time,” Johnson said.
The Prices enjoy learning about Chinese culture, so Johnson said learning has been a two-way street with him teaching them words in his native language. Jamie said hosting Johnson has also taught her an important lesson: “He taught us what it’s like to have a teenage boy, regardless of cultural differences,” she said.
Johnson will soon change host families, as Jamie is due to have a baby soon. He isn’t worried, though.
Outside of school, Johnson goes to church with his host family at Cornerstone Church, where he accepted God into his life and was baptized.
“Because when you have something and then you don’t want to tell people, or some other reason, you can just tell God, because God will be a very good listener and always with you,” Johnson said.
He was baptized at the church on April 27, 2014. Jamie was excited about Johnson’s decision.
“It was a joyous, emotional time I guess,” she said. “Just very proud of him making his faith his own, and it was fun to see how he wanted everyone important in his life there.”
Though his host family helped him explore Christianity, he did not take the decision lightly and thought a lot about why he believed in God, taking into account things he learned from church, school and through reading the Bible.
“I go to church every Sunday, and I think it’s time to believe Jesus and then become a Christian,” Johnson said.
Johnson was excited to take a religion class and a foreign language class at Pacelli, as those are only taught in college back home.
Pacelli is different from schools in China. At Pacelli, Johnson takes classes from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day. In China, he went to classes from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day. Yet he doesn’t favor one over the other.
“They both have benefits for you, because in United States when you learn something it’s different style, and it’s like, you can learn something for the other country,” Johnson said. “In China we both have that but it’s just different.”
Ferreira-Truong said Johnson has adapted well to the different school system.
“He’s curious,” she said. “He wants to do good. He wants to represent his country very well.”
“I think he’s a good example to others too,” she added.
These aren’t the only new experiences he has had. Although some parts of China get snow, Johnson said his city never had any. Since he has been here, he has gone skiing and built his first snowman.
“It’s very fun, just very cold,” he laughed.
When he saw snow for the first time last year he thought it was “beautiful.”
Johnson also experienced the holidays — Thanksgiving and Christmas — in the U.S. and was excited to learn more about American culture.
“I learned, like, Thanksgiving is family, love, we’re always together no matter, just come to join the family group,” Johnson said.
He also mentioned enjoying eating cranberries and pumpkin pie. Back home, Johnson would celebrate Spring Festival, which he said is similar to Christmas. Going through the holidays without his family was tough, but Johnson said his parents have given him a lot of support for his trip.
“They both are really good, like they support me to come to the United States,” he said.
Johnson still communicates with his family through Facetime each week.
He isn’t going to stop learning
Johnson’s journey learning in the United States isn’t going to end anytime soon. He plans to stay in Minnesota for college and could study chemical engineering and accounting, as well as other languages.
“Because the United States have lots of good schools, so I want to stay here and learn different cultures, make different friends, make different country’s friends,” Johnson said.
Jamie is also glad he is staying in the United States to attend college.
“I know that he would love to live in the United States,” she said. “He loves American culture. I think he fits in well with American culture.”
He doesn’t know where he will go after college, but one thing is for sure: He isn’t going to stop learning and making new experiences anytime soon.