Perhaps because of its northerly perch, Portland, Maine is often not given credit for being the incredibly beautiful city that it is; a cosmopolitan niche rich with art galleries and great shopping blended with the smell of salty ocean air, the sight of fisherman returning with their catch, and the sound of the waves lapping upon the rocky shore line. A recent trip to Portland, Maine made me keenly aware of the uniqueness of this lovely Down East seaport and how it is slowly stealing my heart.
At the end of a busy work schedule in and around the Casco Bay area, I found myself with a few free hours prior to my flight home. Locals had told me to be sure and take time to see the islands off the coast; Peaks Island, Little Diamond, Great Diamond, Long Cliff and Chebeague. I remembered my acquaintances at Cheverus Catholic High School and North Yarmouth Academy telling me that some students commute to school from the islands each day via ferry. I found the idea of commuting by ferry to be fascinating. Fall, winter, spring; students head to the ferry dock and sail to school! Putting aside my notions of the traditional yellow school bus, I made my way through Portland to the Casco Bay Lines at the ferry terminal on Commercial Street.
The ferry terminal in Portland is a huge complex and yet everyone waiting for service to their respective island seemed to know one another well and chatter filled the air. Amidst the flats and boxes of supplies awaiting transport o the islands, students waited with their backpacks and sports equipment and men and women carried groceries home from the store. Some families arrived with their pets; all dogs need to have their own ticket to ride the ferry! People are encouraged to bring food and drink aboard and many local cafes and restaurants offer bagged lunches and dinners to be enjoyed on the trek home.
The term, “Mail Run”, is used as the ferry service is truly the only means of mail and freight delivery to the islands. A crane sits atop the ferry for quick on and off of everything from flats of flowers to ice packs. While passengers disembarked at Little Diamond, I witnessed a shed being lowered down to the new owner waiting on the dock. My timing at the ferry terminal seemed to be perfect as I quickly realized that I had arrived just in time to board the “Sunset Cruise” and would be treated to a show of the sun slowly slipping below the horizon as the ferry darted in and out of each island’s harbor.
The entire trip through Casco Bay and out to the surrounding islands takes about 3 hours. The ferry ride was smooth that evening but I tried to imagine what it must be like on the coldest of winter days when snow falls over Casco Bay and the wind stings. In all actually, I have found Portland to be a mild spot in winter. It’s location to the sea makes for a pleasant climate year round and not nearly as harsh as many people may think. Besides, the people of Portland know how to dress for winter and look great, too! LL Bean is right down the road in Freeport…
I boarded the ferry with the locals and sat down on one of the benches on the second level with my coffee in hand. People were quick to ask me if this was my first trip and inquire as to where I was from and I suddenly found any feelings of loneliness quickly fade. One gentleman in a business suit was returning from his day at work, an older lady with a wheeled basket had gone shopping for fruit, one boy was returning from his sports practice at school and a family on vacation from Norway took in every word of the group’s conversation.
A sharp blast of the horn and the ferry sailed out of Casco Harbor and past the quintessential New England scenes all of which evoked a true Down East flavor; clapboard cottages bleached by the sun and salt, a black dog retrieving a ball for its owner, the sound of children laughing as they played while waiting for mom or dad to return from work on the mainland. I felt as if an LL Bean catalog had come to life!
At each stop, items were unloaded and loaded, a flood of people, some in business suites and others in fishing gear, disembarked. A large bucket sat at each dock for mail and package delivery. The harbor was obviously where the community came to connect with the mainland. As soon as the passengers had left the dock, and the crane secured, we were off again. After several stops, I was among the last of the passengers and the ferry began its turn to return to the ferry terminal. I felt both tired and exhilarated by the trip and I could imagine easily falling asleep to the steady movement of the ferry and sound of the engine. As we set our course to the west, the sun dipped below the horizon and for one last moment it set the sea on fire.
Each time that I return to Maine I am reminded of what a wonderful place it is for our international students. This relatively small city boasts so much and yet it is only a short drive away from the bustle of Boston and the great ivy schools. I am always struck by the kindness of people in the area and have been welcomed into schools and homes and shown the New England way of life. My little gem of Portland is a place that I return to feeling as if I am going home but knowing that I will always experience something new during my visit. Like sailing the “Mail Run”, there is always a little surprise awaiting visitors Down East.
New Oasis and NRCA student Vivian Li arrived in August to the New Oasis program as a quiet, yet ambitious student. Entering her junior year, Vivian knew that she had a lot of work ahead of her: immersing herself into a new culture, attending a new school, meeting new friends and setting goals for herself to gain college acceptance from top-tier competitive universities in the U.S. While many Chinese students decide to study abroad in the U.S. as early as the 9th grade and have four full years to reach all of their goals, Vivian knew that she would have to start making an impact immediately.
Since arriving here, Vivian enrolled in the maximum amount of AP courses that she was entitled as a new upperclassman, including AP Calculus. Her first quarter grades were very impressive, as she earned A’s in every class. Her first semester GPA was 4.5 – the highest GPA possible at NRCA.
Knowing Vivian’s goal of attending a top-tier university after graduation, New Oasis Academic Coordinator Joy Mathes advised Vivian to also focus on social goals, as the college admissions process for most competitive schools stresses extracurricular activities and volunteerism. Vivian joined and became a member in four different clubs at NRCA including the Pep Club, Chemistry Club, Math and Physics Club and Ducks Unlimited (a wetlands and conversation of wildlife club). Additionally, Vivian won the role of Vice President in the Math and Physics Club.
Those around her say she is a true joy to be around, as she has made new friends at NRCA – both Chinese and non-Chinese and actively participates in every day life with her host family. Says Mathes, “Vivian is a beautiful, talented and very grateful human being. Right before Christmas, she asked me if I could accompany her around the school to hand out handmade gifts to school administrators and her teachers to thank them for all of their help and support. Since arriving to NRCA, she has gotten her feet right on the ground running and hasn’t stopped. I am truly proud of her accomplishments.”
“Many students may be misunderstood about studying in US, like thinking it’s much easier than other countries or feeling too stressful they can not involve into the school life. Giving my opinion, both of these thoughts are not correct.
First of all, American study is not easy. As long as it’s not our first language, it should be hard for most of the students to understand everything in class. My recommendation is to read everything you need in your textbooks and always ask help when you need. My dear host mom always says if we’re helpless or feel confused, the only thing we can do is ask:) That’s so true. Don’t be worried, just do your part and try your best, self-studying is extremely important in US.
Next, don’t feel anxious about the social life. American students are extremely nice! There is always someone willing to help you on whatever you need. My advice is don’t be shy. Never mind how good or bad your speaking is, talk to them! Making lots of American friends is the coolest thing you can do there.
Last but not least, trust me, all the teachers I met here are REALLY caring about their students. Just use my school as an example, since it’s a Christian school, I feel safe to say all the teachers I have have their graceful love on all students. They’re kind to give you any help on study anytime, so whenever you need, ask them. Don’t be afraid and don’t be nervous, be sincere and respect to them, they will be your friends.”