Tianjian (TJ) Guo moved to the U.S. from China in 2010 when his father came here to study. Although he’s only been here four years, Guo’s command of the English language is impressive. One reason is because he started to learn English when he was three years old. “My hearing and pronunciation began with a native speaker,” says the Palmetto High School senior.
Guo uses his proficiency in English to help Chinese exchange students that attend Palmetto.
He helps them bridge the language gap and the cultural barriers.
“It was a different scenario for me when I came here, he says. “I had someone to help me, a friend who is now in Georgia. I would have long conversations with him.”
Today he has one-on-one conversations with the students on a wide variety of topics, including questions on how their host families are treating them and how their college applications are coming along. If needed, he finds tutors for the students who need additional help with academics.
“Last year there were eight (exchange students) and this year we have 14 or 15,” he says, noting that it’s hard to get an exact number because the agency that works with the exchange students does not submit a report to the school. Instead, they work with the Department of Education.
“I have to talk to them individually and ask them things like, ‘Do you have any friends?’” he says.
Guo says he tells them to embrace the cultural shock.
“Now you see how two countries treat things — the way China and U.S. treat things,” he says. “Sometimes they are opposite. But both countries are right.”
Guo recently held a conference with all of the exchange students, including a counselor.
“Before the conference, I talked to each one,” he says. “I talked about what our school offers land told them about the service clubs. Now they won’t be clueless when they want to find something.”
On Saturdays, Guo volunteers at a Chinese school.
“I basically help the teachers help the kids,” he says. “If there is a disparity in understanding, I moderate that. The teachers are better in Chinese, the kids are better in English. I can figure out a way to say it in English.”
Guo is involved in other activities at Palmetto. He is vice president of competition for Mu Alpha Theta, the math honor society. He is also a member of the National Science Honor Society, the Asian Culture Club and is an honorary member of the Student Council.
“I help them out, but I’m not officially part of them,” he says. “I eat lunch in the school activates office. If they need help on computers, I’m there.
If they have something going on like a show, I’m willing to go. If they need me, I’m there.”
Guo often competes in math contests and has won numerous trophies. He has placed high in regional and state competitions. He is taking dual enrollment classes in discrete math and linear algebra and has completed a course in multi-variable calculus. He also competes in the Science Bowl.
Guo plans to stay in the U.S. for college. He wants to major in computer science. His application list includes top-rated schools such as MIT, Georgia Tech, Cal Tech, Carnegie Mellon, Berkley and Stanford.
“I now want to work on my own games or maybe work for Google, but everyone wants to work for Google,” he says.
— By Linda Rodriguez Bernfeld