By EDWARD HUSAR
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
The world is looking a lot different today for Shuting "Showery" Song, a student from China who spent the past two years studying at Quincy Notre Dame High School.
Song, who graduated with the rest of the senior class Sunday, has come a long way since she first arrived on the QND campus in September 2011 with extremely limited English-speaking skills.
"I remember in class I tried my best to understand the teacher, but I couldn't," Song recalled, noting how all she could do at the time was nod her head "yes" and shake her head "no" if she had any idea what the instructor was saying.
After three months of intense practice and study, her language skills were finally improving a little.
"The English language did not annoy me. I could start to accept it," she said.
After six months, Song said, the language picture was even brighter.
"I could start to talk a little bit fluently," she said.
Song's command of the English language today is stronger than ever, and her view of the world and appreciation for American culture has broadened, as well. She attributes this to the positive learning experience she had while attending QND.
"A lot has changed, and I really think I grew up a lot -- especially this year," Song said. "I really learned a lot -- not only academics, but about life."
Song is one of five students from China who came to QND to immerse themselves in the English language and American culture through an international exchange program. Three of the students were juniors and will graduate from QND next year -- Alexis Li, Hylee Zhang and Dora Ying. Song and another student, Tami Tang, were both seniors and graduated Sunday.
All the students came to QND with the intention of getting high school diplomas and then going on to American colleges or universities.
Song, for example, has been accepted at Penn State University, where she plans to study communications.
"I'm not really good at science or math, and I don't like financial stuff, so I cannot be a doctor," she said. "I like reading, writing and dealing with people, so I decided to do communications."
Song admits that "English is still not my first language," so she expects to face ongoing challenges as she studies for a career in a communications-related field.
Song had already finished her junior year of high school in China when she started at QND as a junior. Even though this meant she had to repeat a year of schooling, "that was not a bad thing," she said. For one thing, it gave her an entire year to bone up on her English before she tackled her senior year of coursework and moved on to college.
Song said she felt a little downtrodden when she first arrived in the U.S. because of her inability to communicate with others, but she received solace through the international language of music, becoming active in choir groups at QND. That turned out to be a blessing, because she found singing to be common joy she could share with others.
"Choir was the best part of these two years," she said. "When I first came, I really felt disappointed because I couldn't communicate with others. I felt isolated and embarrassed all the time. But in choir, Mrs. (Monica) Scholz (the choir director) always gave me a warm smile and encouraging smile. And when you sing with others, I just felt like part of the group of kids."
Song, who performed this year with QND's Concert Chorale, took vocal lessons from Scholz to help correct her pronunciation while singing.
"She really helped me to build my confidence," Song said.
She said another favorite part of her QND experience involved staying with a local host family -- QND chemistry and physics teacher Cliff Tucker and his wife, Sandra, who live in nearby Durham, Mo. The Tuckers went out of their way to make Song feel at home.
"The Tucker family eats rice a lot. That's good," Song said.
She said that on several special occasions, such as her birthday and the Chinese New Year, Sandra Tucker made one of Song's favorite dishes -- rice dumplings -- using a recipe found on the Internet.
"I was so moved. I was so touched. She never tried real rice dumplings before, but she did a real good job," Song said.
Song also fondly recalls the day she was going to be busy with choral rehearsals and wouldn't be able to get lunch, so Sandra packed Song a brown-bag lunch with plenty of her favorite things and extra treats.
"I really like my host mom," she added. "I decided I want to become a lady like her because she's a lady and a mom and a wife who is perfect."
Song said she personally picked out her nickname, Showery, by scanning words in an English dictionary.
"I wanted to find a name with the initial S," she said.
She spotted the word "shower," meaning a heavy rain. "I liked it," Song said. So she told others to start calling her Showery.
She's considering a different nickname when she moves on to Penn State next fall.
"I'm thinking of changing it when I go to college to make it more common," she said.