ELMIRA — How can it be that the same group of youths have both the shortest and longest trips to school?
The answer to that riddle can be found at Notre Dame High, where 16 students reside in a former convent just a few steps from the school entrance. Then again, those teens have traveled thousands of miles for the privilege of having such a brief daily journey.
They attend Notre Dame as part of the school’s growing international program that offers foreign high-school students an array of academic, cultural and social experiences. It’s a blend that’s been quite agreeable thus far to Jose Marcotti Neto, a junior from São Paulo, Brazil.
“Every day here is fun,” Jose stated.
Elmira international students come from several countries
For several decades, Notre Dame’s international-student dormitory was an on-campus home for the many Sisters of Mercy who taught and worked at the Catholic high school. The building was discontinued as a convent in 2014, and two years later, it began its next chapter by housing students from China.
However, beginning in March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic forced Notre Dame to temporarily shut down and the Chinese students to return to home. The former convent went unused as a residence for the next two-and-a-half years.
During that time, Patricia Mack — who began as Notre Dame’s head of school in January 2021 — led an initiative to expand the international program. The convent building was refurbished to more closely resemble a student dormitory, and in the fall of 2022, the current international students — nine boys and seven girls — became residents there. Despite coming from Italy, Spain, China, Mexico and Brazil, they arrived with a good grasp of the English language.
“We’re super excited at how well it’s taken off,” Mack, a 1985 Notre Dame graduate, said about the international program.
Foreign students form special bonds
All the dormitory’s bedrooms are single occupancy, and there is high-speed internet access throughout the building. Housing also includes study rooms, a kitchen, dining room, laundry room and recreation area equipped with such perks as a Foosball table, pool table and movie room. There is adult supervision at all times, and visitors are allowed at the dormitory but must sign in and out.
Ilaria Stimamiglio, a senior from Padua, Italy, noted that the dorm residents quickly developed special relationships with each other.
“Everyone made friends within a week. It’s like a brother or sister bond,” she said. “If I ever get homesick, I have a lot of people I can talk to.”
The international students also have multiple connections to other students and activities. For instance, they attended homecoming in the fall and have taken day trips to nearby cities and towns, visiting such venues as malls, museums and festivals. In addition, they spend leisure time with families of Notre Dame students.
Meanwhile, Giovanni Reale said he’s expanded his social network by playing varsity soccer and basketball for the Crusaders; he’s currently involved with lacrosse.
“Sports are great, helping me get to know people,” said Giovanni, a senior from Vercelli, Italy.
Further growth ahead
International students have been well-received by the student body, said Kristie Crossley, Notre Dame’s director of international student recruitment. Crossley noted that the international and local students enjoy comparing notes in such areas as the foods they prefer, daily schedules and how holiday traditions are observed in their respective countries.
“The cultural differences are amazing. I’ve learned so much from these guys,” Crossley said.
Notre Dame’s international program is likely to expand in the future, she added, noting that the former convent can accommodate about twice the number of youths who currently live there. International students may opt to stay at Notre Dame for one year or return for additional years; Jose, for one, said he’d like to be back in Elmira as a senior in 2023-24.
Crossley observed that Notre Dame’s international students are a special breed. Even though they sometimes battle homesickness, she said, they’re still eager to spread their wings and experience life in faraway lands.
“I have to tell you, it is the most amazing thing to see these kids smile and really embrace what they’re doing here,” she commented.Tags: Catholic Schools