An Interview With Sasada Yu

Photo courtesy of Sasada Yu

Interview by James Wolfe

Could you tell us a bit about where you come from?

I am from Wuhan, in south-central China.

Many people here ask me, “What is it, a city or a town?”

I answer, “It has a population over 10 million….”


I am not surprised at people’s astonished reactions after they hear that number. Actually, many Chinese cities have that number of people.

Since Wuhan has a really bad drainage system and really bad city planning, people there like to complain in a fun way. In early summer every year, Wuhan suffers from flooding, and the water accumulates on the street. But this seems not to bother us much because people find fun in the water, and sometimes they take funny pictures. They always try to make a bad situation happier and not grieve. I like this disposition of the people in my city.

How did you get into the exchange student program?

Our school in China elected thirteen students to the program in January; I got my assignment in March. I had never thought about studying in America for college before that time, but I have thought about studying here for a PhD since I was in grade 9.

We have eight classes in the day and study for four hours in the evening, six school days a week. Most of the students live at school, but it is not a boarding school, it’s a public school located in suburban Wuhan. This may seem tricky for you, but all the Chinese senior middle schools (we don’t call them high schools, just middle schools, but they’re divided into three years of junior middle school and three years of senior middle school) require exams before enrollment. On average, only half of the students can go to senior middle school after junior middle school. Other students can go to technology school.

Compared to HHS, we don’t have so many choices in our courses, but we have much more intensive study in science. We don’t have intensive courses and AP courses that prepare us to study abroad in our grade, so I took March and April off of classes to study English and my 5 APs in May. After our semester ended in July, we had virtually finished our new courses; 12th grade is for reviewing what we learned for the past two years.

Where do you live now?

Etna… a really, really placid place. Too quiet for me. I have lived in the big city for such a long time, and I still can’t get accustomed to the quiet here now.

What do you like to do in your free time?

I liked hanging out and shopping, eating, and watching movies with my friends on weekends when I was in China (sometimes we didn’t have enough time to go back home on weekends), but here it seems like there’s no place for hanging out.

What are some of your impressions of our school?

When I first came to HHS, it seemed like a kindergarten from my perspective. Everything is well decorated. And the campus is so small (maybe because I used to live in a school with over 5000 students and 1000 faculty and other workers). The students here have big differences from China’s; it seems that they are concerned more about the social sciences. They are always active to talk about politics, the economy, and events that are happening currently. They are also active in class, willing to express their own opinions. In Chinese classes, students seldom talk in class. The students here are judicious; they have their own thinking and analyses.

What are your favorite classes?

I have six classes now: Concert Band, Engineering Design, PE, Contemporary US History, English 9, and Math Modeling. My favorite classes are Math Modeling and Contemporary US History.

Math Modeling class is very different from other classes; we have to use our own methods, but no skills, to solve the problems. I like physics and math because I enjoy finding new ways to solve problems.

For USH, we have lots of homework (maybe not much for other students, but I read slower than them), but I am interested and happy to know what happened, and analyze why it happened. We used to make no effort in social studies when I was in China because our school has more focus on science, but here social science seems more important. We have more social studies and literature courses than science courses at HHS. It’s magnificent to learn about humanity and society in these issues. I find fun and conflicts of thought in USH class. I am going to enroll in a Dartmouth course in the Winter term.

What were your expectations about America? Did they turn out to be true?

I have experienced many novel things here. I like the educational method in America, especially the family education. Born in a [typical] Chinese family, I am the only child with no siblings, so my parents focus all their care and attention on me. This sometimes makes me stress because I have to do better to meet their expectations. But the family I am living with now, the Finlaysons, has five children. It’s busy but fun to live in such big family; all the kids have to schedule their time to make everything in order. In interacting with family members, they learn more about behavior, caring for others, tolerance, charity, and other things other than academic study at their young age.

Actually, many Chinese may have [misconceptions] about teenager culture in America. They imagine the culture here to be like it is in the American soap operas—too much interaction between boys and girls, wild existence of hippie culture, and lack of academic study—but these are only on TV, not in real life. (In China, the TV shows always try to depict a better society, but here, TV tends to reveal and sometimes exaggerate the bad facets of society.) The real Americans are matured in thought.

Another thing I feel in America is the freedom atmosphere, freedom in thinking. Students here don’t have so much academic stress compared to Chinese students. They can choose what they like to learn in high school, and they can get more liberal thinking in social studies classes. They are always very busy, but they are busy with what they like: academic study, art, and extracurricular activities.

I have many things I want to do here. I like playing the drums, but in my school band in China, I have no confidence when I’m playing the drums. I’m staring at the piece when I play the music because I am afraid I can’t follow the band. I am very wary when I hit the drums because I am afraid of making a mistake. The band here is different: we have twelve drummers in the band. Maybe the drumming [techniques] of the students at HHS are not better than Chinese students’, but they have confidence and vigor, and these are essential for drummers when performing. Alex, another drummer in the band, always reminds me not to be so stressed when playing; it is just a funny thing and should not bother me. Mr. Wolfe always claps hands with us after rehearsal every day, which gives me confidence and happiness.

I also joined the math team and swimming team. We got good a grade in a math competition! Actually, my math grade is not good in China. We focus too much on practicing, frustrating many students and making them suspect their intelligence in dealing with numbers (this also sometimes happened to me!), and eventually they have no interest in math. Luckily, my dad is a math professor in China, so he gave me some help and led me to find the beauty of math. I still think I don’t have much gift in math, but I [love] it.

In the last few months, I think I still haven’t talked a lot with people. It’s sometimes hard for me to find common topics with others, except when they ask me about China. I will find more opportunities to communicate with others in the coming months.

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