International students receive education, faith at North Hills
By Sarah Campbell
SALISBURY — Five of the 16 students who recently graduated from North Hills Christian School aren’t from around these parts.
They grew up in Germany, France, Brazil and Lithuania before moving to the States.
But you might not be able to tell.
The boys love Cheerwine just has much as any Salisbury native and relish the chance to get their hands on the southern delight known as Bojangles.
“The seasoned fries are especially good,” Moussa Doucara of France said with a laugh.
Moving to Salisbury was a bit of a culture shock at first.
“When I first arrived, I saw cows and trees and I thought, ‘Wow, this is very, very rustic,’” Nick Petruk of Brazil said. “But now I love it.”
Doucara said all the rural stretches of land filled with crops or grown up by trees definitely threw him for a loop.
“We call this the jungle in Paris,” he said.
The initial shock eventually gave way to homesickness, but it didn’t take long for the boys to feel right at home.
“The first three months here were really, really hard,” Vis Marijosius of Lithuania said. “But I adjusted and I’ve really enjoyed being here.”
Matt Mitchell, North Hills’ head of school, said his family hosted Marijosius.
“He’s been a great addition to my family of six, he’s now No. 7,” Mitchell said.
As the only child of a single mother, Marijosius said he’s enjoyed being part of a big family.
Povilas Dambrauskas of Lithuania said he’s missed his family a lot, but found comfort in his host family and friends.
“I have a brother and sister back home, but Nick was like my brother here,” he said. “Our host mother is a youth leader in our church, so every Saturday, youth from the church come to our house to spend some time with us so that’s really nice.”
Doucara said he hasn’t experienced much homesickness because he’s been away from home since the age of 16 traveling around to play basketball. He said having a great host mother made it even easier to be away.
“She makes me feel like I’m at home all the time so it’s not much different,” he said.
How they got here
Each of the five boys has a different story about how they wound up at North Hills.
Felix Frank of Germany said it was simple for him. When he was looking for a school to attend in the States, he turned to his sister who lives nearby.
“We saw this was a private school and a Christian education so we jumped on it,” he said.
Dambrauskas originally moved to San Diego, Calif, to play basketball at a high school there, but undesirable living conditions sent him looking for another school to attend.
“I was in a small room with four other guys,” he said. “The coaches took us to school and praise and brought us back, they didn’t really care about us.”
Dambrauskas said he got in touch with Marijosius, who was already at North Hills, and decided to move to Salisbury.
Marijosius’s route to North Hills was a bit more straightforward. He had a friend who knew a basketball coach at Catawba College.
“That led me to North Carolina,” he said.
Petruk’s basketball connections also landed him at North Hills.
“I have a friend in Brazil who knows a coach here,” he said.
Doucara was playing basketball for a Christian school in Charlotte, but when his living arrangements fell through, he had to find another place to go.
“They called North Hills and here I am,” he said.
The course rigor was a bit challenging for the boys at times, especially considering their backgrounds and native languages.
Dambrauskas said taking Advanced Placement calculus was interesting because it was completely new material. And he said AP English was particularly hard.
“In literature class, we do pretty similar stuff to what we would do in Lithuania, like analyze various writers and write essays, but that would be in my own language. English is my second language,” he said. “That was probably my toughest class, but I got lots of support from my teacher and classmates because they wanted me to keep up.”
Kay Madden said having all five boys in her world literature class enriched the curriculum she was teaching.
“What better way to round out world literature than with students from other countries,” she said. “None of them came in with a list of famous writers from their countries, but they did bring in a sense of pride and knowledge to share with our students.”
Madden said there were times when the boys struggled because of the language barrier, but it didn’t keep them from success.
“Our program I think supported their education and their perspective supported the education for our students as well, so it was a real win win,” she said. “They are incredibly courageous to come away from everything they are familiar with and just fit right in.”
Change in faith
The boys weren’t just subject to tough curriculum at North Hills, they were also part of a Christian community.
Doucara said he’s enjoyed getting an education that incorporates faith.
“We don’t have Christian schools so when I came here and people said there are Christian schools I thought “This can’t be real,’” he said. “When I came here, I figured out a lot about myself so I’ve really enjoyed it.”
Marijosius said being at North Hills was transformative for him.
“By the time I left Lithuania to come here, I had pretty much lost faith in God and was becoming a nonbeliever,” he said. “But when I came here, God showed his faith and completely changed my life.”
Frank said he had a similar experience.
“My faith has grown quite a bit,” he said. “I want to say that God put me here to grow because before I was kind of iffy about God and believing, but going here changed my mind.”
Mitchell said it’s been stunning to watch the boys grow closer to God.
“Their faith has really become their own since they came here,” he said. “I think they sense that faith is deeply personal and they understand how to have a real relationship with God.”
Doucara returned home to France after graduation. He’s not 100 percent sure what his plans are, but he said he’ll likely play professional basketball.
Frank headed back to Germany where he’ll spend about a year before he moves back to the States. He’s hoping to attend Penn State University.
Petruk isn’t sure if he’ll return to Brazil or stay here. He’s still trying to figure out where he wants to attend college.
College has been on the minds of Dambrauskas and Marijosius since the two moved to America.
“If I wanted to play pro basketball it would have probably been better to stay in Lithuania because there are plenty of opportunities there,” Marijosius said. “But I wanted to use basketball as a tool to get a scholarship.”
Dambrauskas will be going to Ohio Valley University in West Virginia this fall to play Division II basketball on a scholarship.
“I was accepted into a couple of the schools, but they didn’t offer full-ride scholarships,” he said. “And I like Ohio Vally because it’s a Christian School.”
Marijosius won’t be going far. He’s signed on to play basketball at Catawba College, where he plans to study business.
“I was accepted by a Christian school so that made my decision really hard, but Catawba has a really good business school, which interests me,” he said.
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.
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