Foreign exchange students feel a sense of community at Mount

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WOONSOCKET — Jiwoo Jeong is the president of the World Language Club at Mount Saint Charles Academy. Four short years ago, she arrived in the United States with the hope of a positive high school experience — one with new friends, new cultures, and of course, a new language.

Jeong, a South Korean native and senior at Mount Saint Charles, has no regrets when it comes to her decision.

“Studying abroad in America has shaped who I have become,” she said. “I have been able to understand and appreciate different cultures while being able to make myself comfortable around different people.”

Jeong explains that her academic experience in America is a stark contrast from one she would have had in South Korea. It is hard, she says, for Korean students to have a life outside of the classroom; their workload is simply much heavier.

Jeong, a member of Mount’s cross country, indoor track and lacrosse teams, strongly believes that “being a part of a team teaches you something that can’t be taught otherwise,” as she reflects on the values of teamwork, cooperation, and a sense of community.

And it’s that strong sense of community at Mount Saint Charles that has made what Jeong feels to be a worthwhile decision.

And according to Lisa Tenreiro, Mount’s Director of School Counseling, this is exactly what the school has been aiming for.

“Our international program opens the door to diversity that doesn’t exist organically,” said Tenreiro. “We welcome a diverse group of learners and a sharing of experiences.”

Tenreiro joined the Mount community at the start of the 2017-2018 school year. In 2015, she was named school counselor of the year by the Rhode Island School Counselor Association.

This year Mount is host to 28 students from three different countries: Spain, South Korea and China, with China being the largest contributor.

Tenreiro explains how students are able to participate in Mount’s international program through three host organizations, each one offering a well-rounded — yet different — schooling experience.

The Roosevelt International Academy is a residential program based out of Providence, offering students a dorm-like setting with additional services such as study halls and tutoring. RIA’s goal is “designed strategically to prepare RIA students for admission to a Top 50 University,” according to its website. The second program offered at Mount is Schola USA, a newer organization, which coordinates exchange programs between the States and Spain. This year Mount hosts a single senior from Spain as a part of the school’s new “Two Plus One” program, in which a student spends just his or her final year of high school at Mount. Lastly is Nacel Open Door, a program in which students are placed in host families.

Jeong is hosted by her Advanced Placement Spanish teacher at school, whom she considers to be her “second mom.” Jeong’s fellow senior classmate, Wei (Peter) Li has had a similar, positive experience with both Nacel Open Door and Mount Saint Charles Academy.

Li arrived at Mount from China in the summer of 2017 as a junior. He believes that his host family has taken care of him “in every aspect of life,” and wants to say to them, “more than a thank you.”

“It has surely been my honor and pleasure to study at Mount,” Li says as he refers to the school as his “U.S. family.”

Li has found the Mount students and faculty to be both welcoming and supportive. Li, who previously studied at an international high school in Beijing, researched alongside his parents and school counselor a myriad of schools before selecting Mount.

Li too, can attest to Jeong’s feelings on the different types of schooling in the U.S. versus back home. He says that both have similar goals in helping students pursue their dream. The only difference is the way they do it.

“In China we focus more on the academic part, in other words, things from textbooks. In the U.S., the student’s full potential is developed — not only things from textbooks, but also other perspectives.”

The Mount community lives out and shares its Catholic faith on campus in the tradition of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart. School service projects, in which all students take part, give them the opportunity to practice what they have been taught through the school and the Brothers’ mission. It also gives them the chance to make spiritual connections and develop compassionate relationships in environments that they might not otherwise have the chance to experience.

John Guevremont, English Department chair, feels honored to have taught both Jeong and Li.

Guevremont has been at Mount for 38 years, and department head for 12. After having had both Jeong and Li in class, he reflects on each as “diligent, hardworking, respectful and appreciative.”

Guevremont has known Jeong even before he had her in Advanced Placement English Language and Composition; she would come to him for writing tips as early as her freshman year.

“She is ambitious,” Guevremont says. “Our international students take their education very seriously.”

Guevremont believes there to be a real benefit to international students getting involved in extracurriculars. And while they do adapt, he says, “assimilating socially is difficult.”

Guevremont also assists with Mount’s theater productions and has seen Li in a different light — that is, the one on stage. And in terms of class, Guevremont has seen an impressive student in Li.

“Peter has a real intrinsic interest in what you’re doing in class. He absorbs information — almost like a sponge — and learns for improvement, not just for the grade.”