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A home away from home; Dorm life comes early for these high school students

Most students view high school as challenging and stressful, but how would you feel going to school thousands of miles away from your family and friends? Forty-five students from around the world have taken the opportunity to receive their education through residential programs at Buffalo Seminary in Buffalo and St. Francis High School in Hamburg.

Buffalo Seminary has had a growing residential program since 2009. There are currently four houses located around the school on Bidwell Parkway and Potomac Avenue, and the newest house was added this past summer. Seven to eight girls live in each house along with an adult house director. Girls reside at the houses from all over the world, including Korea, China, Jamaica and Mexico. There are also five-day boarders from Olean, Waterloo and Rochester. The girls eat their meals in the Sem dining room.

Jasmine Chen, of China, came to Sem as a sophomore in the fall of 2009, so this is the start of her third year. She has lived in a different house each year. Jasmine strongly believes that the program will help her not only when she dorms in college but also throughout her life.

"We know how to get along with people and we are independent," she said of the boarders. "We can take care of ourselves."

But why come all the way to the United States to go to school? Jasmine said she thinks of her parents' good intentions if she ever feels homesick.

"I think about how they sent me far away because they are thinking about my future," she said.

Now, homesickness is the least of her problems. She has a rigorous schedule at Sem but manages to participate in planned activities. Some of her favorite things to do range from going to the mall to staying in and watching a movie with the girls to doing community service in the Elmwood area.

Jasmine smiles widely as she tells how the girls she lives with have become a family to her.

Rachel and Rebecca Spaulding, twins from Jamaica, have begun their second year at Buffalo Seminary and are currently seniors. At first, residential life was challenging, but things became easier along the way.

Rachel explains how she copes with homesickness: "You need to make friends, go out with friends, do the same things you do at home. It's like a family."

Rachel and Rebecca reiterated Jasmine's belief that the program will help in college in that "you won't be as homesick in a dorm because it's basically the same thing now."

Fortunately for them, they have each other, which makes homesickness less of a problem. One of their favorite aspects of residential life is immersing themselves in diverse cultures. "You get to meet so many people from different countries that you probably wouldn't have," Rebecca said.

Lisa Pritchard, residential adviser and English teacher at Buffalo Seminary, believes the program benefits the girls by giving them a sense of community that differs from living with a host family. Common house rules range from keeping their rooms clean to signing in and out if they plan to leave the house.

Pritchard said she has really grown to care for all of the girls. She recalls a memorable experience that demonstrates their appreciation for Buffalo. "Four of the girls graduated last year. They had never been to the Anchor Bar and all loved wings. We took them there, and they absolutely loved it! It was a challenge to see them go on to college, but we knew they were well prepared," she said.

Pritchard remembers the first day all the remaining girls returned for the new school year. "It was like nothing had changed."

Residential Coordinator Abby Jones organizes events, such as apple picking, rock climbing and seeing shows at Shea's Performing Arts Center to keep the girls entertained. Her mission is to make sure the girls feel at home as much as possible and seek any academic attention if necessary. Her favorite part of the job is getting acquainted with the girls.

"The most challenging part is probably the 24-hours, seven-days-a-week nature of residential work. It's funny. That's probably partly what is the favorite part of the job because we really work with and live with the students so we get to know them on every level," Jones said.

She strives to take care of the girls and make sure they feel comfortable adjusting to the area. She explains that the girls come to Sem for the academics, which Jones believes will stay with them through the rest of their lives while experiencing the everlasting "Sem Sisterhood."

"The residential program provides a system to make the best of friends. They form very strong bonds with their house directors also," Jones said.

This school year, St. Francis has returned to its roots by reinstating its residential program. St. Francis High School, founded in 1927, initially opened as a residence high school consisting of students from all parts of the United States.

Sean Obrochta, St. Francis' admissions officer and a past residential student from Boston, believes the program carries many benefits. He participated in the residential program during his freshman and sophomore years in the late 1980s.

In 1988, the residence closed due to a lack of students. The residential program reopened, as Obrochta states, "to provide a more collegiate feel to the campus, as well as to spread the message of St. Francis to a more diverse, international population."

He explains: "Looking back now, it was a great experience and helped me for college dorm living. It is something that not all schools have. It makes St. Francis an even more special place to receive an education."

The St. Anthony Residence Program at St. Francis is located behind the main building on the third floor of Justin Hall. The residence has a capacity of 26 students. There are currently 20 students living there, all from China. The boys eat all meals in the cafeteria, but always crave traditional dishes, which they enjoy cooking in the kitchen located close to their rooms.

Mike Meng, Max Cui and Steven Si are all juniors living in the residence.

Matt Neyman, the residence coordinator, described how the students love the game room, which is equipped with PlayStation, movies, a pingpong table and comfortable couches.

Mike explained the benefits of the program and attending high school here.

"If we study here for one or two years, we can have some better opportunities," he said.

The boys want to master the English language and also hope to attend college in the United States, but living so far away from home is not always easy.

Steven, Max and Mike all said they missed Chinese food the most.

"I miss food all day. I don't want pizza anymore!" Mike said, as the other boys laughed and nodded in agreement.

Apparently, the boys have trouble finding Chinese restaurants that prepare their favorite dishes. Food is only one difference between American and Chinese culture. Max said other differences in the cultures include school and sports.

"We study from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. in China," Max said. "Here we have more time for sports and hobbies."

Mike said his favorite experience has been a trip to Niagara Falls. Steven said his favorite was the homecoming dance. They are all happy that their English has improved and hope for more diversity in the program in future years.

Residential programs give students the benefit of living in a close community and developing strong relationships. The students have learned to become more independent and responsible.

"There's much to be learned living in a community setting. You learn to work with others and live with others," says Jones.

The smiles on all of the residential students' faces give it away -- they seem to be happy with the programs. Although their families are thousands of miles away, the residence has become a home away from home as the students form a new family, aiding one another as they pursue their dreams.


Leanora Karnath is a senior at Buffalo Seminary.

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