The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

School Columnists

March 22, 2012

International students welcomed as part of the Grand River family

AUSTINBURG TOWNSHIP — Teen-agers from all over the world come to Grand River Academy with different intentions, yet they are a looking for the same opportunity to change their lives through a fresh experience. Most Asian students come to GRA looking for a different school system, with different options for learning, while the African students come here for a better education.

“I have better teachers now,” said Michael Ntagungira, a first-year student from Rwanda, Africa. “It is not something that I had back in Africa. Teachers pay more attention to me now, and my grades are so much better than I used to have.”

GRA to foreign students is not the stereotypical environment one would think of. The community welcomes and accepts them “into the family,” rather than treating them as strangers. The international students are able to leave legacy behind if they want to.

Angela Thomas is the coordinator of the International Student Program at GRA. She acts as part teacher, part mother to the boys who come to school here from all over the globe. This year there are students from six foreign countries, including China, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Korea, Taiwan and Ethiopia. Mrs. Thomas recently started a program that has her students teaching their classmates basic language skills during a lunch presentation program.

“You never know when just learning how to say ‘hello’ in another language can turn into a friendship that you might never have otherwise,” said Tom O’Neal, director of development at GRA.

To international students, GRA has become a platform for people to interact with each other from different cultures, religious and social backgrounds.

“The diversity of the school is great. I get to know a lot of kids from all over the world and make friends with them,” said Zongyi Ji, a four-year senior.

GRA has a rather small community compared to most of the private boarding schools across the states, yet it provides young adults with a rare opportunity to bond with kids at their age, coming from all over the globe.

“I have made a lot of great friends with diverse backgrounds, I am able to learn their culture,” said Emmanuel Foday-Kailie, a four-year senior from Sierra Leone. “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for me.”

During his four years at GRA, Foday-Kailie played soccer, which he knew in his native country, but he also picked up wrestling and had a good time learning that sport.

The international students cherish their time spent at GRA and the domestic students see diversity as a benefit. GRA has become more than a school to its boys. It represents a friendship and brotherhood they can share throughout their lives. They view coming here as an experience that is as rare as “a blue moon.”

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