“I had never been to the United States before coming to Malden Catholic. The atmosphere at MC was very welcoming and I immediately loved it.”
When speaking to graduating senior Ziye “Tom” Guo, a native of Zhangjiakou, China, you would never know that just three years ago he hardly spoke any English at all.
“I struggled with the language when I first came to America,” said Tom, who entered Malden Catholic his sophomore year. “My sentences were scrambled words. I couldn’t understand things and I was desperate to just have a conversation.
“After two months of listening, I began to understand the language, and communicating with my peers was getting easier,” said Tom who credits the MC football team for improving his English skills.
“The best way to improve any language is to be in a group with native speakers,” said Tom.
However, Tom didn't join the football team just to improve his English language skills.
"I remember distinctly the first time Tom stepped foot on our campus. It was International Student Orientation," said Ms. Lisa Cenca, School for Girls Principal, formerly International Student Coordinator. "Tom was attentively listening to every word I said and nodding his head. Yet, I could sense that he really wanted to say something. Finally, I came to a point in the presentation where I asked if any student had any questions.
"He frantically waved his hand. 'Yes, Tom?' I asked," recalls Ms. Cenca.
"Ms. Cenca, all of this sounds really great, but I need to tell you something. I have lived in China my whole life, and I have been watching American football on TV for as long as I can remember. And seriously, I just want to know where I sign up to get a helmet. I came to America to play football.
"He signed up that day," said Ms. Cenca.
Two of Tom's football coaches will tell you that he definitely made an impression.
"I met Tom at an August football workout just days after he touched down in this country for the first time," said Mr. Robert Gregory, a member of the MC football staff and Tom's first football coach. "In terms of the Xs and Os, he really had no idea what was going on the field (and he'll tell you that!), but his personality was magnetic.
"Instantly, we recognized that there was something special about him. It was awesome to watch him immerse himself in the culture and brotherhood of our football program. He's one of the best ambassadors of team and school spirit we could ever ask for," said Mr. Gregory.
Echoing the comments of his fellow football coach, Mr. Mike Driscoll, Campus Minister and Tom's Theology teacher and JV football coach, says Tom's presence on the field was captivating, but it was his character that really stood out.
"Tom Guo is one of the most dedicated, faithful, hard-working student-athletes I’ve had the pleasure of coaching and teaching," said Mr. Driscoll. "He exhibits the Xaverian values and he’ll carry them with him for the rest of his life. I can’t thank Tom enough for everything he did for Campus Ministry and our school community. "
Through his determination and incredible work ethic, Tom not only speaks great English today, but has also racked up an impressive college acceptance list featuring highly selective schools throughout the U.S. Ultimately, he's chosen to continue his journey at a school dear to many hearts at Malden Catholic.
“I’m going to Notre Dame,” said Tom with a smile. Also accepted to UC-Berkeley, NYU, UNC-Chapel Hill, Emory University, the College of William & Mary, and Colby College, Tom plans to study business with a concentration in finance and statistics. His goal is to one day work in the sports industry.
Growing up in China, Tom describes his family as “normal.” His mother is a high school teacher and his father works in business with a focus on culture. His older brother is a police officer in China.
“My mom knows how important education is and encouraged international study,” said Tom. “The city I’m from has an agency for international students and they gave me a list of private schools in the U.S. I applied to MC and got in.
“I got lucky, and I think I chose the right school. Malden Catholic gave me so many opportunities. Now look where I’ll be next year,” said Tom.
For Tom though, it wasn’t just the academics he took advantage of during his time at MC. He wanted to experience everything.
“I’m very involved here,” said Tom who plays for the Varsity Football and Rugby teams, and is a member of the art club, drama club, robotics club, model bridge, Crystal 99 Newspaper, and National Honor Society. His favorite club though, is the multicultural club.
“I love that club!” said Tom enthusiastically. “MC has such a diverse group of people with different ethnicities, backgrounds, religious beliefs and more, so it’s great to be able to get together and talk about our cultures.”
While Tom said most of his fun is had at school – where his friends are – during his free time he enjoys watching American movies from different decades. Right now, he’s getting through movies from the 70s and 80s. However, his favorite movie of all time is Rudy; a movie about a young man overcoming obstacles to play football at the University of Notre Dame… I guess we can see why it might be Tom’s favorite.
Academics and extracurriculars aside, when asked what it’s like being an international student at MC, Tom’s response was simple. “I feel at home,” he said.
“We’re brothers of different colors and cultures,” said Tom. “It’s a mixed group here, but we’re a family. The sense of community is strong.
“That’s actually one of the reasons I chose Notre Dame over the other schools I was accepted to. I wanted that same brotherhood that MC has,” said Tom, who urges other international students to take advantage of all MC has to offer.
“I tell people at home to apply here. It’s a great school and I would recommend it to any potential international student. The teachers are like second parents, they really care about you. I’ve formed relationships with them that I know will continue after I leave,” said Tom.
“Over the past three years I’ve learned a lot,” said Tom when reflecting on how he’s grown during his time as a Lancer. “I feel like MC is an elite institution that teaches you how to be a gentleman, while also building your character and enhancing your knowledge.
“You will learn to succeed and care about others and your future, learn the importance of service and being kind, and how crucial it is to build relationships with the people around you,” said Tom.
When asked what advice he may have for incoming international students, Tom’s immediate response was “learn English,” but after a moment of reflection, he asks international students to be open to new experiences.
“Break out of your bubble and try to befriend American kids,” said Tom. “There are misconceptions on both sides, but if you open yourself up and initiate conversation, they’re really friendly. Some of my best friends at MC are American.”
With his last year at MC quickly coming to a close – and commencement next month – Tom often thinks about his future and how prepared he feels. Someone who knows he will succeed no matter which path he follows, is Ms. Cenca.
"What makes Tom such an amazing person and student is his naturally inquisitive mind," said Ms. Cenca. "He loves to ask questions and try new things. He embraced fear and found comfort in the discomfort of being an outsider.
"Tom jumped into the MC community and took advantage of all it had to offer. That's what makes him so special. I just can't wait to see how he will change the world in the future," said Ms. Cenca.
So how does Tom feel about the next step in his academic journey?
“Malden Catholic provides an elite education to ensure all students succeed," said Tom. "This school gave me the mentality and skills needed to excel at the college level and I know other international students feel the same.
“I’ll miss this school, but I’ll miss the people more,” said Tom.
“The place is just a building; the people make it what it is.”
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