OLEAN, NY – Mana Itohiya has a goal. She wants to speak English without hesitation. Sound easy? It’s not. But just a few months after trekking halfway around the globe for cultural immersion and academic excellence, the Tokyo teenager’s vocabulary has already bested her own expectations.
Itohiya is among five Japanese students attending Archbishop Walsh Academy this school year. Known for its academic rigor – particularly the International Baccalaureate Programme – Walsh was the ideal choice for Itohiya and her initial cohort to Walsh’s international boarding school.
The students are quite comfy in their new digs. They feel safe and nurtured, Itohiya says, in their home away from home. The Volpe International Residence Hall, which opened in August, is just a short walk across the yard from the Archbishop Walsh Academy/Southern Tier Catholic School campus. The small, private school atmosphere has made friend-making easy.
“I want to get along even better with my friends and go hang out,” Itohiya says. “I enjoy talking with my friends and playing volleyball every day.”
The 10th-grade Japanese students really like volleyball. Several joined the team this semester. The social benefits of being involved at a new school are just as important as the academics, Itohiya says.
Takafumi Matsuura finds that many American Walsh students like to chat most about Japanese games and culture. The curiosity is mutual.
“I enjoy going to Walsh,” Matsuura says. “Everyone is so nice and willing to talk to, which I really appreciate.”
And that’s the point, says International Program Director Rich Esposito. Making friends and expanding worldviews is a key success metric of the international boarding school option.
“Regardless of where the Japanese students live while attending Walsh, the most important aspect of their stay in the U.S. is making friends and building relationships with classmates,” says Esposito, who has volunteered as a Walsh/STCS Board member to head the International Program. “As I mentioned to our Japanese exchange student last year, ‘We are all your English teachers,’ and they can learn from every American in and around Walsh here. Just as importantly, our local students learn just as much from them.”
For Itohiya, the dorm interior is stylish and everything is easily accessible. Fellow international student Kanna Iwata agrees, saying the hall – the former 360Rize building, purchased and renovated over the summer to become a 21st-century student-living experience – is clean and spacious. From the sleeping quarters to the living rooms and bathrooms, all spaces and fixtures have been designed for student success, social acclimation and comfort.
Iwata desires to “understand and speak English better than when I came here. Also, I would like to increase the things I can do while I am away from my parents.”
“These international students mature and grow tremendously during their stay at Walsh,” adds Esposito. “They become fluent in English, learn how to adapt to a multicultural environment, and are able to more adeptly navigate problems they face without the direct assistance of their parents and others back home.”
The international students have their cellphones, laptops and other tech devices you’d find in a teenage backpack. But their familiar support structure is nearly 6,600 miles away, Esposito explains. School staff, a Japanese-program chaperone and two resident assistants are available 24/7 to advise and cheerlead, but the students must learn to figure out problems on their own.
“This is very much like American students going off to college, yet the international students are learning this in high school,” he notes.
Early in their time at Walsh, the international students promptly began diving into American culture and cuisine, Esposito says. Like their local friends, they’re learning to appreciate world cultures.
Walsh/STCS aims to grow the international boarding school program. This year, in addition to the Japanese students, three other students hailing from Tokyo, Austria and Thailand are being hosted in a Walsh family home. The Volpe International Residence Hall can house up to 10 international students at a time. Esposito expects new cohorts from Japan and other countries in future semesters.
The opening of the residence hall for the private academy was a steppingstone to students’ postsecondary and career success on a global scale. It was named to honor longtime Walsh/STCS benefactor Vince Volpe.
To learn more about the Archbishop Walsh/Southern Tier Catholic School International Program, visit www.stcswalsh.org/the-american-experience.