Bangor High School senior Qi Chen came to the village this fall with a mission.
The 17-year-old exchange student from Jiaxing, China, wanted to escape the extreme pressure of his test-heavy education and to immerse himself in a culture he had until recently only seen on television and online.
“I wanted to learn more about the American culture,” he said.
Coming to the U.S. was also an opportunity to focus on becoming a better English speaker.
Chen dreams of one day becoming a surgeon, and believes by becoming a better English speaker will help him stand out.
Less than a month after arriving in Bangor, Chen has already noticed a difference in his vocabulary.
Chen was introduced to the exchange program by a friend of his mother whose son, Qi Feng Yang, had traveled to California the year prior.
In late 2016 Chen made a brief visit to Washington, D.C., he wanted to come to the U.S. to study for a year.
Just a few days before arriving in Bangor on Aug. 29, Chen found out that’s where he’d be spending the year.
After 17 hours in the air, he arrived in La Crosse, where his host parents, Ben and Joy Crenshaw, met him at the gates. Chen was nervous. He had never met his host parents, and he wasn’t sure how to start a conversation with the family he’d be spending the next year with.
“They are very nice,” he said. “It was the first time they met me.”
As it turned out, Chen quickly became friends with his host brother Nathan Crenshaw, a freshmen at Bangor High School.
Like Chen, Nathan shared a lot of his apprehension starting high school. The two quickly bonded.
He was surprised to discover how different western Wisconsin was from what he’d seen of the U.S. on television.
Chen said the education system is a lot different. One of the biggest differences Chen noticed after arriving in Bangor was the amount of technology at his disposal.
“In China, we can’t use mobile phones,” he said. “We can only use the printed book.”
Back home, Chen had spent much of his time focused on homework and preparing for the rigorous college entrance exams and a test many of his peers had been studying for years to pass.
It seemed like his classmates in China were always competing against each other, but in Bangor, this hasn’t been the case.
Chen said his classes here are less structured and there is a lot less homework which has left him more time for extra-curricular activities.
In class, Chen said he’s excelled in math and science, but struggled to keep up in American history and anatomy.
Chen said he’ll need to get better at anatomy if he hopes to peruse his dream of becoming a surgeon.
Where Chen hasn’t struggled is making friends.
He said in China people are often cold or indifferent to each other.
“People are very cold to each other in China,” Chen said. “We don’t really talk or smile to each other.“
He said in the States, people are much friendlier.
A month into his stay in the U.S., Chen has already taken up playing the guitar and is a percussionist in the pep band.
“My host family does a lot with music,” he said.
Chen has also joined the cross country team and already has his eyes set on his next sport.
“I want to join the basketball team after cross country,” he said.
While Chen has settled into life in rural Wisconsin, one thing he may never get used to is the food.
Accustomed to a rice-heavy diet, Chen isn’t a big fan of Midwestern cooking.
“I wouldn’t say I like the American style of cooking,” he said.
Chen said hamburgers, spaghetti and Pepsi are okay, but he doesn’t like pickles.
“My uncle owned a noodle shop,” he said. “My whole family are good cooks.”
For this reason, Chen plans to cook for his host family and introduce them to authentic Chinese cuisine.
“I can cook,” he said.
Following graduation this fall, Chen hopes to return to the U.S. to attend college and medical school.
He said after watching the American television show “Night Shift,” he was inspired to pursue a career helping people.
“I want to be in the emergency room to help save people’s lives,” he said.