Entering Waynflete as a new junior in 2014, Liam McNiff didn’t expect to befriend someone whose hometown was 10,000 miles away. Sam, who hailed from Australia, was spending the year at Waynflete as a visiting ASSIST scholar.
ASSIST is a Connecticut-based nonprofit that is creating a global network of future leaders by providing international students with full or partial scholarships to attend American independent high schools. The organization has brought over 5,000 students from 52 countries—many of which are underrepresented in independent school populations—to the United States since 1969. In a typical year, over 200 American families will host ASSIST scholars. The network comprises 81 schools in 23 states.
Visiting scholars are high achievers, with only 15 percent of applicants selected for the program. Applicants must present personal recommendations and references from teachers and are thoroughly vetted before coming to the United States. Almost 95 percent achieve honors or high honors academic standing during their visit year.
Brian McNiff and Heather McCargo learned about the ASSIST program from Liam’s new Aussie friend Sam and his Maine host family. The McNiff-McCargos had previous international experience, having lived overseas in Spain. Liam had also completed an exchange year in France. They signed on with ASSIST and hosted two students: Arnas, from Lithuania, in 2015, and Dahlia, from Vietnam, in 2017.
The program also piqued the interest of Sam and Norma Fratoni, who saw ASSIST as an opportunity to expose their son Ben to a global perspective. The Fratonis also viewed the program as a way to contribute to the Waynflete community outside of traditional volunteering roles. In 2016, they welcomed Mihaela, a student from Moldova, to their home for the school year.
Preparing students and families
ASSIST ensures that visiting scholars are well-prepared for their stays in the United States. Students attend a pre-departure orientation in their home country, then spend four days in an immersive orientation program at Pomfret School in Connecticut.
Staff from ASSIST and Waynflete visit the homes of prospective families to discuss living arrangements and provide information on resources that are available during the visit year. ASSIST provides counsel on introducing visiting scholars to family routines, including expectations about chores, boundaries (“their space versus our space”), and technology needs.
Former Waynflete host families are also an essential information source. Previous host parents are happy to share their experiences with parents who are considering ASSIST.
While it’s not unusual to feel anxious about someone new joining the household, host families discover that there are no significant shifts to their family routines. What seems like a big change quickly becomes the new norm. “Dahlia got into our rhythm, and we got into hers,” Brian recalls. Visiting scholars and host family students often become close, even if they’re not best friends at school. “Ben and Mihaela would help each other out,” recalls Norma. “They really respected each other and would often hang out after school.”
Visiting scholars can revolutionize dinner table conversations. “It is an enriching experience for the visiting student and the entire host family,” says Brian. “It’s exciting to have someone from a completely different culture in your home.” Sam’s host sister Elly had this to say about the hosting experience: “I gained a brother and a friend, but also a whole other world of cultural knowledge. Hosting is not only about sharing family and friends. It expands one’s view of culture and how it’s related to everyday living.”
Want to learn more about becoming an ASSIST family host? Email Head of School Geoff Wagg.
Top image: 2017-18 Vietnamese ASSIST student Dahlia (second from left) with her Upper School advising group.