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International students enrich classrooms, boost diversity efforts

Posted on October 28, 2013
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Where Oscar Kwon is from in South Korea, high school begins at 9 a.m., shortly after the students arrive on foot or by city bus.

The school day officially ends at 3 p.m., but most students stay until 9:30 to do math exercises or pore over other subjects for extra credit. Rice, soup and the cabbage-based side dish kimchee help to keep them on task.

Yet instead of following that routine, Kwon chose to come to the Aquinas Institute of Rochester at age 16. Now 18 and on track to graduate next year, he hopes to stay in the United States for college and pursue a sports management career.

Going abroad for high school has paid off in innumerable ways, he says.

“When I was in a Korean school, I didn’t have time to do any sports activities and things I really wanted to do,” says Kwon, who plays first base on the varsity baseball team and lives with a host family in Greece.

Private schools across the Rochester area are attracting international students like him, either through partnerships with recruitment agencies or by word-of-mouth. School officials say the students’ presence dovetails with their institutions’ diversity efforts and enriches the classroom experience.

Homeland security measures implemented after the terrorist attacks of 2001 have given private schools a distinct advantage over public institutions in wooing foreign students.With a type of non-immigrant visa or student visa known as an F-1, secondary school students can matriculate at private schools, stay for more than one year, graduate and begin their university education without having to change their visa status or return home.

Students with F-1 visas attending public schools can stay only one year and must pay for their education’s unsubsidized, per capita cost. International students at local private schools, however, typically pay full tuition and rarely receive financial aid.

Though less of a presence in the Rochester area, exchange students usually have a type of non-immigrant visa known as a J-1 and must return home within a 30-day grace period after the end of the school year. They are not permitted to earn a diploma from their host school, regardless of the number of credits they have earned.

The Harley School, ranked fourth in total enrollment on the Rochester Business Journal’s most recent list of private schools, currently has 17 matriculated international students and one exchange student. The countries they come from include France, Spain and Germany.Each year Harley aims to have international students represent 2 percent of the student body, says Ivone Foisy, director of admissions. Most of the students hear about the school through family or friends affiliated with local colleges or universities.

Harley’s international student orientation helps bridge initial cultural gaps, Foisy says. Then some of the settling in happens naturally through project- and team-based learning, she adds.

“So the opportunity to be in a classroom with engaged learners, in a very fast-paced academic setting that is very much verbal and participatory for our students, is a wonderful immersion experience for them,” Foisy says.

The students’ presence at the school is far-reaching.

“A lot of our host families are Harley parents that understand the culture of a private school, and it gives (the students) the experience of learning American culture and learning what it’s like to be a part of a community,” Foisy says. “So that experience is very valuable.

“Conversely, for our domestic students to learn about another culture and to be actively learning with students that have been taught in a very different way is something our students really appreciate.”Ranked No. 1 on the Rochester Business Journal’s list of private schools, McQuaid Jesuit High School currently has seven matriculated international students and one exchange student. Most of the international students come from Asia and hear of McQuaid through word-of-mouth, given that the school does not work with a foreign-student recruitment agency.

Despite its Jesuit affiliation, most of the school’s international students do not practice Catholicism, says Joseph Feeney, McQuaid’s dean of admissions.

“They are here to experience Western culture in a challenging academic environment,” Feeney says.

The international students have not necessarily attended private schools before coming to the United States, but all have attended schools with strong English language programs.

“I think that our student population receives an appreciation for the foreign students’ culture, and our students help the foreign students (assimilate) into our culture here at McQuaid, but also the culture here in the United States,” Feeney says.

Many international students who have graduated from McQuaid have gone on to college in the United States, and some have pursued their undergraduate education in the Rochester area.
Aquinas has experienced a surge of international students, increasing the ranks from four students a few years ago to 26 this year. Twenty-three are matriculated, three are exchange students, and most come from China and South Korea.

Aquinas, which is second on the Rochester Business Journal’s list of private schools, prefers to turn to the school’s parents to host the students, says Joseph Knapp, director of admissions and public relations.

“The ideal situation is for these kids to stay with Aquinas families …, just because we want to see the kids get involved in activities and be regular students-even though they are regular students thousands of miles from home,” he says.

Through its relationships with CCI Greenheart and other agencies, Aquinas typically receives 40 pages of information about each prospective international student and then arranges a Skype interview with each.

To keep the program rolling, Aquinas recently hired an international student coordinator.

“It’s going to be another kind of support system for the kids, because … they’re a long ways from home,” Knapp says. Kwon says he would not trade his experience as an international student for anything.

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