SALINA – ChenHao Li has come a long way. Born in Zhengzhou, Henan Province, China, a city South of Beijing, Li first came to the United States in August 2016. On his first day, Li knew no other cadets and spoke almost no English. Now, just over 18 months later, in his senior year, Li is thriving.
He has mastered conversational and academic English, is earning high academic honors, has learned valuable lessons of leadership, and has plans to continue his education by enrolling in college in the United States. Li’s parents, Liang Hongtao and Kang Ping, could not be more proud of how far their son has come in such a short period, pointing to the quality education and personal support their son is receiving at St. John’s as the reason for his rapid success.
The Decision to Pursue the Path of Excellence
Li and his parents first learned of St. John’s Military School from a teacher in China. Recognizing that Li was more driven and motivated than the average student, the teacher recommended Li finish his high school career at St. John’s. He explained that St. John’s helps young men develop themselves personally, academically, and spiritually and that it has a dedicated international student program and support system in place for non-English speaking students.
“The teacher knew about the school and introduced me,” said Li. “He knew it would be a good opportunity for me.”
Li and his parents were excited about the potential of an academic institution that offers individualized support and personal attention, something they felt Li was not getting at the public school in China he was enrolled in at the time.
“Li was a ‘learning machine’ in a boring and dogmatic learning environment,” said Liang Hongtao and Kang Ping.
“I was at a normal, tiny high school,” adds Li. “We were given lots of work and lots of tests, but our teachers didn’t care about the students personally. Here at St. Johns, the teachers help us improve academically and personally. They really care about us. It’s very different from my old school.”
Liang Hongtao and Kang Ping hoped that in addition to the opportunity to learn in a supportive, attentive environment, Li would develop the types of personal leadership skills they knew he would need to succeed in life.
“We hoped that he would learn to be independent, have a good sense of responsibility, and know how to handle stress,” they said.
When Li first arrived on campus, his first time setting foot in the United States, he was excited and overwhelmed.
“It was amazing,” said Li. “The first time I came it was hard for me to understand. Everything was in a different language; everything was new to me– and exciting.”
Of course, for Li, life at St. John’s means a difficult separation from his parents, who miss him desperately but remain committed to their goal of giving their son the best possible academic opportunity. Li has been able to travel back home to China during summer breaks. Other vacation periods he spends with a friend in Los Angeles.
English Language Immersion
St. John’s Military School regularly welcomes international students into its brotherhood. To ensure its international cadets are just as well-equipped to excel academically as its domestic students, St. John’s has a variety of support programs and staff in place to quickly help international students assimilate into the English-speaking classroom and develop a rapid proficiency of the English they need to focus on their academic learnings.
“I took ESL (English as a Second Language) in my first year taught by Mrs. Lilly. She helped me with English improvement. She gave me vocabulary and grammar from basic to hard. That helped me a lot. When my homework in other classes was difficult, I could bring it to her class and work with her, and she would help me.”
Developing Strength and Confidence
For Li, who took the challenge of his language barrier in stride, looking back on his first year at St. John’s, it is not learning English that he recalls as his most significant challenge.
“The most difficult part of military school at first was physically,” said Li. “The cadet challenge I could not do so well.”
The Cadet Challenge is a physical fitness competition regularly conducted by the school’s Junior Reserve Officer’s Training Corps (JROTC) department. The purpose of the Cadet Challenge is to test the cadets’ physical stamina and abilities. Cadets are asked to complete a series of physical tasks, such as sit-ups, pull-ups, and the shuttle run and improve on that number each time the challenge is conducted. The cadet challenge is yet one more facet of his personal development in which Li has come a long way, as he has improved his challenge results over the past year and a half.
Not only has Li improved his English, and improved his physical endurance, he feels he has improved academically, and personally as well.
“I’ve changed a lot. My teachers have helped me improve. My English and math teachers have helped me improve my vocabulary, my leadership classes have helped me become a better leader, and the military staff has helped me improve my skills physically.”
Li’s parents see similar improvements with their son, improvements that validate their reasons for sending him to St. John’s to complete his high school education.
“St. John’s has helped him to become more independent, optimistic, confident, and stronger than ever,” said Liang Hongtao and Kang Ping.
Li credits one member of the St. John’s faculty in particular for helping him transition to life in America, and in helping him succeed at St. John’s, Xiaotian “Marcus” Gao, the school’s Mandarin Chinese teacher and a fellow native of China.
“Mr. Gao helps me a lot,” said Li. “He was a new teacher last year when I started, and he helps me with English and anything else I need, or questions I have about day-to-day life. He helps me figure things out. If I ever have a problem, he is always there to help.”
Lessons of Leadership
As he begins the last semester of his high school career and reflects back on his two years at St. John’s, Li does not consider English proficiency to be the most important skill he will take with him when he graduates.
“I think to be a leader is the most important thing. You have to take the correct direction. When subordinates are looking up to you, they may not always listen to you, so you have to show them what to do the correct way by the way you act yourself.”
After graduating from St. John’s, Li intends to earn a college degree and is interested in attending the University of Washington.
Liang Hongtao and Kang Ping are confident that their son is on the right path and hope he continues to aspire to personal greatness.
“We hope that he can be happy, healthy, confident, and live a structured life,” they said.
From parents who made the challenging decision to send their son 11,000 miles away from home, and have seen him thrive, Liang Hongtao and Kang Ping hope other parents are encouraged to make the same choice to give their son the very best possible opportunity for success.
“What is being offered at St. John’s is not only beneficial for your son to go to universities but also important for a productive and meaningful life.”