Marshall increases number of international students

Sunny Wang of China and Mohanad Alhouni of Libya are studying at Marshall School in Duluth this year for similar reasons: They both want to improve their English and get an education that will land them at an American university.

Mohanad Alhouni
International student Mohanad Alhouni from Libya works on Chinese history questions in his World History class at Marshall School on Thursday. (Bob King /

Sunny Wang of China and Mohanad Alhouni of Libya are studying at Marshall School in Duluth this year for similar reasons: They both want to improve their English and get an education that will land them at an American university.

Wang and Alhouni are part of the largest group of international students Marshall has enrolled, stemming from an expanded international program that aims to do more than offer one-year exchanges. Most of Marshall's international students plan to stay at the private school through graduation.

This year, Marshall installed an international studies director, who this week is recruiting in China. Also added were classes in English as a second language; a visit from faculty and staff from a school in Mumbai, India; and a partnership with a school in Brasilia, Brazil, which some Marshall students will attend for several weeks. That's in addition to an 18-year partnership with a school in Germany.

It's all part of the school's mission to educate students globally, said Sarah Perry-Spears, director of admissions.

And the great thing about the longevity of their stay, she said, is that friendships made between students through the high school years have time to grow.


"Some of them you just know are going to be friends for life," she said. "It will give kids a chance to visit a place they never thought they would."

International students account for 5 percent of Marshall's enrollment, growing from 12 last year to 23 this year. Other students are from Chile, South Korea, Japan and Brazil. They stay with host families and come with a different mindset than those who are here for just a year, said Head of School Michael Ehrhardt.

"They are investing in Marshall as their primary education for secondary school," Ehrhardt said. "They are here to build up language skills, get a great arts education, a great history education and participate in a true school experience."

Some of the countries the students come from have educational systems that neglect things such as critical thinking, the arts and creativity, he said. To be competitive candidates for American colleges and universities, many are finishing high school in the U.S.

In China, for example, it's a huge sacrifice to send children abroad, but the alternative is a greater risk, Ehrhardt said, because education is so important to them. Universities and colleges in the U.S. are more plentiful and often better than some in China.

"They see the path in their home country hitting a wall," he said.

Wang echoed that notion, saying that her parents have planned for years to send her, their only child, to study abroad.

While other countries, such as Australia, were in the mix, she chose the


U.S. and Marshall herself, she said.

"Some parents ask (their children) to study abroad to help their family business," Wang said, but hers did not. "Education is for my own self. I choose for my self."

Wang, a sophomore, hopes to attend Stanford University upon graduation, a school she's already visited. Ski Club and the math team at Marshall are on her docket for this year. Marshall and its students and staff have been good to her, she said, and she's already developed a love for Pizza Luce and chips.

"I totally enjoy here," she said.

When the Libyan civil war started earlier this year, Alhouni's family left the country for Egypt. His Minneapolis-based cousin found Marshall through online research. Alhouni, a junior, is from the capital of Tripoli, where schools shut down shortly after the conflict began. Alhouni, an avid tennis player, came to the U.S. so he could continue to play tennis and go to school.

"My friends (in Tripoli) aren't studying right now," he said. "They will have to repeat the year."

His family has since returned to Libya because of his father's work, and faces a 6 p.m. curfew, dangerous streets, a city half-destroyed by bombs, and bank restrictions that limit the amount of money Alhouni's father can withdraw each month. Alhouni communicates daily with his family using Skype, and he hears gunshots in the background. His aunt's house was looted recently, and he worries about his younger sister and brother.

"They kind of be afraid every day," he said. "They say, like, 'They are going to come and attack us.' They stay just in their rooms."


The chance to learn from international students is valuable to everyone at Marshall, Perry-Spears said.

"There's a lot of talk in the world about diversity and being open-minded," she said. "But the rubber hits the road when kids actually get to learn about someone else's life."

Sunny Wang
Marshall sophomore Sunny Wang works with fellow students Anthony Pfahl (left) and Hannah Auvinen on a question of morality in their Developing an Examined Life class Thursday afternoon. (Bob King /

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