John Carroll School renovating former convent to house international students

When The John Carroll School in Bel Air opened its doors in September 1964, The Sisters of St. Joseph served as the faculty and lived in a building on campus officially known as the John Carroll Faculty House.

By the early 2000s, only two sisters were living in the building, known as "the convent" by students and alumni, and the school began to pursue other uses for the structure. The school's president, Richard O'Hara, sought permission from the Archdiocese of Baltimore, which owns the land, to develop a plan for the building's future.

Among the different ideas considered were bringing new science labs and areas for performing arts. Then, two years ago, the school's board of trustees decided to use the former convent to house international students, a growing part of the student body.

At the end of August, renovations to the building will be completed and the former convent will reopen as St. Joseph's Hall housing 14 international students, the first students of any kind in John Carroll's 49-year history to live on campus.

"After a lot of research, knowing the international program was expanding so much, it was decided by the Board of Trustees that this would be best use of the building," explained Laura Lang, a 1975 John Carroll alumnus who is the school's director of marketing and constituent relations.

With total enrollment at 675, the school caps the number of international students admitted at 50, Lang said. The other 36 international students who don't room in the new residence hall will stay with nearby host families throughout the school year.

The school's international student coordinator, Sandi Seiler, will be placing students seeking to live in St. Joseph's Hall on a first come, first served basis, Lang said.

"Dating back to the 1970s, we've always had interest from international students," Lang said. "With the height of Aberdeen Proving Ground, we had people at APG, some of them from other countries, looking for private schools."

Today's international students come to John Carroll from Italy, South Korea, Nigeria, Cameroon, Canada, Spain, China, Kenya and Germany, typically for one reason: A better chance at a college education in the United States, Lang said.

"I think the families view our international program as a direct link to college in America," Lang she continued. "Their ultimate goal is to have their children attend an American university."

The school works with The Cambridge Institute of International Education, a consulting firm based in Boston, to build its international student program.

"They find students, bring the students and work with schools to place these students," Lang said of the consultant.

Some international students, particularly those from China, also are exposed to extracurricular activities from the time they arrive at John Carroll, Lang said. They immediately get involved in organizations such as performing arts troupes and student government.

"These students are jumping in headfirst and getting involved in all of these activities, which is really terrific to see," she added.

The St. Joseph's Hall building already houses the president's office, the Office of Advancement and Alumni Relations and a dance studio that's part of the school's performing arts academy, which will remain in the building post-renovation.

The renovations to the building will include a kitchen to prepare meals for the students, which may prove challenging as the students will be from different ethnic and religious backgrounds.

Lang said the school will work with its food service company to give students the American experience, "but we want to be respectful and handle their needs, too."

"They all love McDonald's," she laughed.

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