ASSIST program brings in two new international students


Starting last year, Kingswood Oxford collaborated with the ASSIST program to welcome international students into the community. KO’s International Student Coordinator Michelle Kollen has helped to coordinate with this program, which has been around for 50 years. 

The main goal of the ASSIST program is, according to Ms. Kollen, to globalize the student population at independent schools. ASSIST has relationships with independent day and boarding schools all across the country. 

For students going through the ASSIST application process, their information is sent to KO’s admissions office, which selects the international students they believe would be the best fit for the KO community. 

There are 26 international students at KO this year, and Form 3 has the most with eight international students. However, only two came through the ASSIST program, and the rest came through international agencies. 

Ms. Kollen emphasized the importance of having different perspectives around campus. “I think that [international students] add so much to our classrooms and our campus, especially if you look at the clubs that they start and the perspectives that they bring,” she said.  

This year, the two students from the ASSIST program are sophomore Hugo Marín from Spain and junior Kata Mesterhazy from Hungary. 

Hugo lives in Barcelona and loves to play soccer and basketball as well as hang out with his friends. He can’t wait to try the restaurant Barcelona in West Hartford Center, and he is on the hunt for some paella – a common Spanish dish that is hard to find here in the US. 

Hugo arrived in the US in the middle of August, but it is not his first time in America. “I visited New York a couple years ago,” he said, “but going to an American school is a different experience.”

Luckily for Hugo, he feels like the adjustment to life in America was better than he thought it would be. “I expected the adaptation to be much more complicated, but people were very welcoming,” he said. Hugo is excited to continue to have fun with friends, and he can’t wait to learn more while he is here. 

Kata, from Budapest, Hungary, is another student who was introduced to KO through the ASSIST program. Her favorite activity back home is playing handball. She has been playing the sport for the past eight years and misses it a great deal. 

At her school in Hungary, they don’t have sports like we do, so she plays for a league outside of school. She wonders about possibly teaching people here how to play handball, as she would love to bring one of her favorite activities to KO.  

Kata’s journey here was a little less peaceful than Hugo’s because her bags were left in Frankfurt, Germany during her layover there. Fortunately, she got her bags back in two days, so the crisis was averted. 

With COVID-19, it was difficult for international students to bring their families with them to help them settle in. Luckily for Kata, her dad had business in the US, so he was able to help her adjust.

Kata calls her family every week and occasionally talks to them during her free periods. Her face lit up as she explained how excited she is that her family is visiting in the beginning of December.  

Kata is very impressed with the students at KO. “When you think of an American high school, I personally think of the movie ‘Mean Girls,’ but it’s not like that because everyone is so nice,” she said, laughing a little. 

This isn’t Kata’s first time in the US, however, as she has traveled to New York City and Florida several times. She loves American foods such as steak and hamburgers. However, her host mom happens to be Brazilian, which means she has also gotten to eat some delicious Brazilian food while she is here.   

Kata is very excited for the rest of the year to come, and she has taken a liking to watching American football. She is very excited about the clubs she has joined and looks forward to participating in KO’s Orange is the New Grey because she was a part of a similar feminist club back home in Hungary. 

She can’t wait to learn and grow as a person while she is here, and she loves the teachers at KO. “The teaching methods here are so different from the ones in Hungary,” Kata said, excited to embrace new teaching styles.

Ms. Kollen encouraged everyone to get to know our new international students. “I hope everybody opens their minds and opens their ears to listen to our international students as they listen to us every day” she said. “They’ve learned so much from us, and we can learn so much from them!” 

Every year, KO needs families to host these international students, and Ms. Kollen encourages anyone who may be interested in hosting to reach out to her. Inviting an international student to stay with you is an extremely powerful experience, as it helps these students feel welcomed, appreciated, and at home.