Rachael Elianna enjoys FHC as her home away from home


Halfway through her eighth-grade year, junior Rachael Elianna and her family packed up their entire household and moved over nine thousand miles away, landing them right here in Grand Rapids. As the plane inched closer to Michigan, leaving behind her home of Malaysia and everything she knew, Rachael was filled with both anticipation and apprehension.

Fast forward a mere three years later, Rachael is now a devoted member of the junior class, enjoying the company of her friends from cheerleading, and participating in FHC’s renowned choir. Along with her two brothers and parents, her strong family spirit has supported her from the very first minute of her move.

“My dad was given the opportunity to be promoted to a managerial position,” Rachael said. “So, they gave him the job and told him to come over here, and he took it. But everything I was expecting about America was completely different. Just everything that I had heard about America was so different when I got here.”

For the Elianna family, Forest Hills was a completely new place, complete with a new culture and different food, family, and friends. Though Rachael was excited about some aspects of her move, she constantly feared missing her old friends and family.

“[I was] definitely scared about leaving family members and friends behind,” Rachael said. “I did not know anybody here, and I still do not have any family members here. I didn’t want to break off having a different culture and different experiences in Malaysia and then come start something new here.”

Though it most definitely took adjusting to, Rachael was able to completely adapt to her new surroundings. In few years that she’s been here, she’s developed a new, more adventurous persona and has been enjoying her new hobbies and friends.

“I think that compared to when I was in Malaysia, I’m definitely more independent now,” Rachael said. “I don’t depend on a lot of people to do things for me; I have my own head on my shoulders. School has taught me a lot about how to be more independent, how to do things for myself, and how to communicate with people better, rather than being shied away from what I want to accomplish.”

To get involved in the community, Rachael joined the cheering squad almost immediately after arriving. Though she was not used to their professional practices, schedules, and routines, she worked hard to improve and advance. This unique experience allowed her to integrate with her peers, meet new people, and indulge in a sport that she began to love.

“Cheer was a big thing for me,” Rachael said. “In Malaysia, my friends and I started our own cheer squad, but it didn’t go very well– a lot of accidents, a lot of broken bones. But when I came here, everyone was so professional and so nice. I came in, and they just helped me.”

Though a fractured fibula prevented Rachael from continuing cheer, she progressed, and she joined the choir over her freshman year. Using her newfound confidence and independence, she took the plunge and showcased her singing ability for all to enjoy. The decision undoubtedly paid off, as she found herself with even more new people to bond with.

“I was known for singing, but I never got involved in anything further,” Rachael said. “[When I joined], everyone was so professional and focused on what they were doing. I was thinking that people wouldn’t take me seriously because I was from a different country, but getting involved in these extracurricular activities really did help me get to know more people and fit into school.”

Over the next year and a half, as Rachael rises to the top of the school and graduates with her class, she is guided by both the support of her American peers and Malaysian roots. With her dedication to her passions and unique ability to adapt, her options are as wide as her future is bright.

“My favorite thing about FHC would definitely be the people,” Rachael said. “They make every day special for me, and I cherish that the most. Meeting new people every day and gaining new knowledge in and out of class is something that really pushes me to get through high school life. I’m definitely looking forward to more surprises junior year has for me and what senior year will bring.”