International students return to Roncalli High School

By Suzanne Weiss | For The Compass | October 26, 2021

Travel restrictions during pandemic halted hosting of exchange students last year

Roncalli High School is hosting nine international students this academic year. They are, standing from left: Izabela Mirochna from Poland; Lorena Burgaleta Delgado from Spain; and Sofía Domínguez García de Viedma from Spain. Seated from left are: Laura Martinez from Spain; Paula Rosello Baena from Spain; Mar Barba Serra from Spain; Marta Witek from Poland; Lucía Gil Escribano from Spain; and Marta Pavone from Italy. (Suzanne Weiss | For The Compass)

MANITOWOC — Due to COVID-19 travel restrictions during the last academic year, Roncalli High School was missing a visible component: its international students.

This fall, they’re back.

“We were very fortunate that we got to be in school full time, but we missed the presence of international students in our school. They have an impact on our students and on our school,” said Shannon Pritzl, Roncalli’s international program coordinator. Roncalli is hosting nine international students this school year — two from Poland, six from Spain and one from Italy.

“Sometimes in a small town, you don’t have as much diversity as you would (elsewhere), so it’s important to introduce that into people’s lives as often as you can in an organic kind of way, and we’re doing that with our international program,” Pritzl said.

“When you have students from other countries, other cultures, other traditions and, in some cases, other faiths, it shows our American kids that … there are many things that we have in common with people that are different than us,” she said.

Roncalli has a long history of hosting exchange students, including some through Global Outreach, a Catholic exchange program based in Oshkosh. Two of the students this year are part of that program.

“Some come for the cultural experience and some also come for the education,” said Pritzl. “All students are required to take a theology class. They attend all-school Masses and go on grade-level spiritual retreats. We have a service program that we call ‘Lasallian Youth’ and every student is part of the Lasallian Youth.” That program gives the international students opportunities to volunteer in the community, such as taking part in beach cleanup or leaf-raking.

“When I came here, I was very welcomed by everybody. It was very nice,” said Mar Barba Serra, 16, a junior from Callús, Spain. This is her first trip to the United States; she came to improve her English and to grow as a person, she said.

Mealtime is one difference that will take getting used to. “In Spain, we eat five times a day,” Barba Serra said.

Not only do they eat more frequently, they typically eat a lot later, said Lorena Burgaleta Delgado, 15, a sophomore from Mostoles, Spain. “We usually eat lunch at 3,” she said. Burgaleta Delgado is in the United States for the first time and aspires to be a lawyer.

First-time visitor to the United States, Sofía Domínguez García de Viedma, a 15-year-old sophomore from Madrid, Spain, said she feels very secure here. “I can leave something on the floor and no one will steal it. You can leave the garage door open. (At home), we have fences. Here you can just walk into people’s backyards. That is really different,” she said.

Also a first-time visitor to the United States, from Madrid, Spain, is sophomore Lucía Gil Escribano, 15, who aspires to be a police officer. She said she is learning that Manitowoc County has more wide-open spaces than the big city she comes from. 

Another first-timer in this country, 14-year-old sophomore Laura Martinez Martinez of Guadalajara, Spain, is still getting used to the American schedules. “We are more nocturnal. We like to stay awake until late,” she said.

“Everything is much bigger here: food, cars and houses,” said Izabela Mirochna, a 19-year-old senior from My?lenice, Poland, who is also in the United States for the first time. She plans to attend a Polish college that specializes in English when she returns home.

Seventeen-year-old senior Marta Pavone of Sanremo, Italy, has traveled to the United States before, but decided to take this trip so she could brush up on her English and enjoy new experiences.

Paula Rosello Baena, a 15-year-old junior from Madrid, Spain, misses the ease of transportation in her big city. “I can go everywhere in Madrid by car, by bus and by subway,” she said. However, she has discovered the joy of riding a bike to the shores of Lake Michigan as she explores the area on her first U.S. visit.

Marta Witek, a 16-year-old junior from Warsaw, Poland, also is on her first visit to the United States. “I wanted to … see what life is like in America and improve my English,” said Witek, who plans to attend a U.S. college to pursue medical studies.

Witek has found America to be cold — as in all the iced drinks and air conditioning. “I sleep under three blankets,” she said.

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