International Valley Education

San Joaquin Memorial High School offers a unique opportunity for international students from China, Mexico, Thailand, Korea, Vietnam, Poland and more. KSEE24‘s Connie Tran explores the program — which is the first of its kind in the Central Valley — and how it benefits both the student and our schools.

By CONNIE TRAN | February 13, 2017

Every year, hundreds of local teenagers apply to be a student at Fresno’s San Joaquin Memorial High School. But now, the private Catholic school is seeing an influx of students from outside the Central Valley, and actually from outside the country.

Students from China want to study at U.S. high schools with the hopes of increasing their chances of getting into a prestigious college. To meet the demand, SMJ has opened up the only boarding facility in the Central Valley to house the international students.

Three years ago, the school opened up a boarding academy – the only one in the Central Valley

SJM has always had an international program, but the students from other countries would stay with local host families. So three years ago, the school opened up a boarding academy – the only one in the Central Valley. Now, international students can live on campus. SJM tells us there’s a great monetary benefit for the school, as well as a unique experience for all their students.

Among the sea of students at SJM, 10 percent of them are from a different country. A total of 26 of those teenagers live in the school’s on-campus boarding facility. School administrators gave KSEE24 a tour of where this unique group of students live.

Vanessa Gonzalez, SJM Director of Marketing And Admissions, giving a tour of the boarding facility

“The kids usually will pick out their own bedding, but you will find that each room has two beds. Each student will have their own drawers and then they each have their own desk,” said Vanessa Gonzalez, SJM Director of Marketing and Admissions.

Amber Hou is a senior. She’s one of SJM’s international students from China.

“I really want to have the American high school experience here because, I know now, I know it’s way different than what I had experienced in China,” Hou said.

SJM markets to various countries around the world to fill their international student program quota. However, the Diocese of Fresno won’t let them surpass 10 percent of the whole student population.

SJM vice principal Anthony Goston said, “Most of our students are from China, but we try to market everywhere to get a diverse group of students and sometimes that can be difficult.”

The school tries to get students from other parts of Asia, South America, and Europe. But, it’s been mainly Chinese students who have been the ones able to afford the annual $51,000 price tag.

Goston said international students aren’t offered student aid. They pay the full price which is $15,500 for tuition and $35,500 to live in the boarding academy.

“And so obviously, it helps out with your budget and things that you can do. But that wasn’t the primary reason, the primary reason was diversity, culture – being unique,” Goston said.

SJM’s boarding academy is the only one in the Central Valley. The students get a private chef, premium living quarters and 24-hour security.

“I really enjoy that part of my life – being around with my Asian friends, American friends, and other international students has been really a fun experience,” Hou said.

But Hou said coming to America has been a transition filled with difficulties – including the language barrier. School officials said it is a requirement for international students to speak English.

Goston said, “They go through a very rigorous process to be accepted into school here.”

“The first week that I came here, I couldn’t keep up with my like very enthusiastic American friends who talk so fast. I was nodding along, ‘yeah, yeah’ – I had no idea what they were talking about,” Hou said.

But Hou and her fellow international students aren’t just at SJM for the American teenage experience. There is a common belief in China and other parts of the world that attending an American high school will increase their chances of getting into a prestigious American university.

31 percent of all international students in American colleges are Chinese, and they’ve contributed more than $8 billion to the U.S. economy.

Therefore, the flood of Chinese students coming to the U.S. for high school continues to rise. According to the Institute of International Education, 31 percent of all international students in American colleges are Chinese, and they’ve contributed more than $8 billion to the U.S. economy.

“I think [it gives you an] advantage compared to many other applicants from other countries – like foreign countries, Hou said.

Hou has her eyes set on Stanford, and she has already been accepted to Penn State. Though she misses home in China, she credits her bright college future in the U.S. to her time at SJM.

“I still miss my friends and I appreciate what my teachers have done for me, but I like the atmosphere here,” Hou said.

A lot of the international students who graduate from SJM don’t stay in the Central Valley. Officials said they move on to colleges outside of the area. Many of them have gone on to the Ivy League universities, and many return to China.

International Student Statistics (for colleges, universities, and higher learning)

2016 Open Doors Report, Institute of International Education

Top 10 states hosting international students

Top 10 countries sending college students to the United States

For more information on San Joaquin Memorial High School and its programs, please visit




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