GREAT FALLS – Students are settling into the school year including those in the International Program at Great Falls Central Catholic High School.

“We love to have these kids come here and just have the American experience,” said Program Director Kyler Baker.

He said part of that experience includes learning a new education system and its traditions such as dressing up for ‘Career Day’ during Homecoming week.

“I don’t really have a job in mind, a career, I’m just dress up as a rich people,” Senior Gioele Crespi, a student from Italy, said. “Any job that can lead me there is fine.”

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Alina Nermiya, a junior from China, said this is her second year at GFCC and she’d like to go into an area of Language Studies after school. She is planning on finishing her high school diploma in Great Falls.

Fifteen students from China, Italy, and Spain are studying at the school this year. International students have also come from Germany and other European countries in previous years.

“The biggest things are culture shock and they miss their families, but this year has been a good transition for them,” Baker said.

Students said they are enjoying their education in Great Falls.

“Feeling more comfortable and freedom and I like the feeling how the student and the teacher have, like really comfortable,” Nermiya said.

According to Crespi, lessons are more interactive in Great Falls whereas, in Italy, reading and exercises are normal.

Not every international student comes from a Catholic background, but Baker said the school aims to provide a welcoming environment to students from all religions.

“It’s like a new religion for me and it like has a lot of different ways than my religion,” said Nermiya.

Both traditional and international students are required to take religious education classes, which Baker said helps students learn from each other’s cultures and beliefs.

“It just gives a great opportunity for debates in the classrooms as well, ‘we believe this way and they believe this way’, so I think there’s great opportunities to learn about different faiths,” Baker said.

The international students will return home a week after the school year ends.

Along with new students, Great Falls Central Catholic High School also welcomed a new principal this year.

Phillip Van DenBrink said his previous experiences in college prep schools helped him transition into his role as principal.

Van DenBrink is a Michigan native and worked in school administration in other countries including Germany, China, and Switzerland.

He said the school’s 100 percent placement rate upon graduation was a big draw to Montana and believes his experience in boarding schools and with international students makes him a good fit for the position.

It’s been an exciting start to the school year and Van DenBrink said one of the best parts of his job so far is getting to know the students.

“The academics are great, rigorous, the sports, athletics teams are so far undefeated- Go Mustangs!- and we have the faith, morals and ethics that we teach our students are really lived out through our students, they’re some of the friendliest kids you’ll see on the planet,” Van DenBrink said.

Looking ahead, Van DenBrink said he will work with the school to expand programs along with developing a new strategic plan with the school’s advisory council.

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