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ASSIST makes a positive impact on international students

Vesta Juodonyte
Vesta Juodonyte and Cesar Marin on their way to the U.S.

ASSIST (American Secondary Schools for International Students and Teachers) is a U.S. based nonprofit international students exchange organization that seeks to match “academically talented, multilingual international students with American independent secondary schools” to raise future global leaders. Each year, hundreds of young inspirational scholars make their way from over 160 different countries to the U.S. through the ASSIST foundation to attend 73 different high schools for one year and learn through traveling.

Being home to 26 various cultures and countries, San Domenico School decided to join the ASSIST organization, becoming a small United Nations here in the Bay Area.

Colleen Bertigila, the Associate Director of International Student Admissions at San Domenico has been working with ASSIST for several years now.

“One of the first things that we tried to do with the CES was continue to diversify the population here in the boarding program,” Bertiglia said. “We take two students a year; they come from all over. But in essence, they come from wherever there is a need.”

According to Bertigila, the exchange programs such as ASSIST are especially effective to getting a well-rounded education both for the exchange and local students as they can “share their own culture, their own experience, and then share it back at home with the other people.”

Every year, one of the two prospective ASSIST students at San Domenico is awarded a full scholarship which includes board, food, and tuition, along with a half paid financial aid package jointly sponsored by the school and ASSIST foundation. In the academic year of 2023-2024, Vesta Juodonyte 25’ from Lithuania and Cesar Marin 26’ from Spain have joined San Domenico to experience a new social life within a diverse community, boost their sports skills and dive into their favorite science subject.

Juodonyte began her ASSIST application in November 2022. She wrote up to six different in person essays, successfully passed the English proficiency test, as she had been learning it at school, and performed well in a group activity to show her teamwork skills. Finally in March, Juodonyte was excited to find out that she had become an ASSIST scholar along with six other talented high school students from Lithuania. Experiencing an incredible adventure, Juodonyte made her way to California while her peers were going to settle in Boston and Connecticut.

“It’s been like getting a chance to see the world,” Juodonyte said.

Juodonyte loves athletics from running on the hills while listening to music, to looking up and hitting a ball on a tennis court or learning how to shoot a basket. She has also become a key badminton player (which is her favorite of all), where all her teammates are amazed by her skills.

Additionally, at San Domenico School, Juodonyte has had the opportunity to live in a boarding school with her friends around the clock, an experience she has never had before.

“Actually living here [in the dorms] is like living in an international community,” Juodonyte said. “I would have never thought that somebody from Asia was going to be one of my dearest friends.” 

The experience of living with people from different countries, backgrounds, religions, and gender identities has been so amazing for Juodonyte that she cannot wait to share it with her friends in Lithuania. Juodonyte reflected on the profound impact of forging international friendships, noting their transformative nature, the excitement they bring, their significant importance, the source of inspiration they offer, and the sense of independence fostered by living abroad.

In addition to being a member of several sports teams, Juodonyte is equally enjoying her science classes at San Domenico.

“Human biology is my favorite subject because I want to become a doctor,” Juodonyte said. “It’s very interesting because we are doing hands-on experiments”.

Vesta Juodonyte and Cesar Marin enjoying their first Thanksgiving meal in the U.S.

Similarly, Cesar Marin is one of the fortunate ASSIST scholars selected from thousands of applicants from Madrid, Spain, to attend San Domenico. 

“It’s actually one of the best years I’ve had in my whole life,” Marin said of his time at San Domenico. “It’s really fun, living your life with your friends who are just like a whole new family.”

Marin is particularly grateful for his experience as it has provided him with the opportunity to discover his passion for becoming a scientist and to define his life goals.

“I feel like this [attending San Domenico School] has helped me a lot in the understanding of what I want to do, education wise,” Marin said. “This helped me realize that I want to go into [medicine and has] helped me tap into myself.”

Marin is also excited to recommend this program to his peers in Spain, believing that learning through travel is a phenomenal educational experience that everyone should have at least once in their life.

San Domenico School has had the privilege to serve 11 ASSIST scholars, providing them the diverse and well-rounded education they desired. 

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About the Contributor
Sharifa Hunarwar
Sharifa Hunarwar, Copy Editor
Sharifa Hunarwar is a senior at San Domencio School and a contributor to The Panther Press. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, writing, music and mountain biking.

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