CONTRIBUTED BY BETSY DAVIS
When students start high school, many already have a group of friends, an understanding of the culture and an idea of what the experience will be like. But for international students, this transition is more difficult because of the added challenge of learning a new language and adjusting to a new lifestyle.
With the help of international student advisers and programs, international students overcome cultural differences as they adjust to the high school and to the United States.
At the high school, there are students from 65 different countries and about one-third of students speak a language other than English at home, according to International Student Advisor Betsy Davis, who works to help international students assimilate into the culture of the high school. Davis works with the newest arrivals since they need the most assistance.
Cyprien Besin ‘18, who came from France, said that Davis was a great advisor to him and to other international students.
“Ms. Davis was just really helpful overall; she was just amazing and I’m really glad that we created this ambassadors program in the school,” Besin said.
The Junior Ambassadors Program allows high school juniors help international students assimilate into American culture. The program started two years ago and has grown and developed over time.
According to Davis, international students originally found it difficult to connect with American students.
“The purpose is not only the obvious welcoming and helping with the transition, but also helping to connect international students to Americans,” Davis said. “Some of our ambassadors are not American, but just people who have been here longer who understand the culture to help them.”
Besin said he only became comfortable having conversations with American students after a year and a half, but he sees current international students engaging in conversation after just six months or even as little as a few weeks.
Davis said that one of the purposes of the program is to help international students’ families transition to the high school as well. Often times, Davis helps families navigate the college process, course selection, standardized exams and basic aspects of the high school, like the cafeteria.
Davis also helps with the English Language Learners (ELL) program, which helps international students whose second language is English. The program currently has around 70 students, each of whom have their own needs of learning English and adapting to the high school.
According to junior Elena Perini from Italy, the ELL program has teachers who understood she was studying a new language and helped her improve.
“I think that helped me to be with other people with my same experience,” Perini said.
Besin says he had only taken six months of English before coming to the U.S., and he was not completely prepared when he arrived, but he ultimately succeeded with help from the ELL program.
Conversely, Perini’s old school in Italy did not have many international students, so there were no international student programs.
“There are not enough to make the program, so the ones that came to my class they were really in trouble,” Perini said.
Besin noticed many cultural differences, from the amount of homework you receive, to the length of the school day, to extracurriculars.
“I’m a big sports guy so having the sports teams linked to the school is something that I really like,” Besin said.
Davis said that international students are a brave group, jumping into a completely new culture at young age, but most cases turn out well. She also appreciates that the high school has decided to support international student programs.
“I can imagine that if I moved to Spain, it would be great if I knew there was someone at the school that was a point person,” Davis said. “That I could always go to with questions big and small, ‘smart’ questions and ‘stupid’ questions, any question I had. I would know that there would be somebody to advocate for me and help me.”