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The College of St. Scholastica

Just a few years ago, Mishell Benitez ‘25 started her college search from her hometown of Ambato, Ecuador, equally unaware of The College of St. Scholastica or Duluth, MN. “I was in my senior year of high school and was looking to study in the States,” Benitez said. “I decided to work with a company to send my profile to tennis coaches. St. Scholastica was one of those options.”

Choosing St. Scholastica

However, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic would derail her senior-year plans. “At the time, I got COVID, affecting me for six months. I had to be in bed without any movement,” she explained. “I lost contact with all of the coaches.” Nearly nine months after her initial inquiries, she attempted to explain her situation to several coaches she had been in touch with. “Some of them were honest and just told me that the spot was already taken and that I could not apply anymore.”

Ultimately, she reached out to Wells Patten, the head tennis coach at St. Scholastica, and received a heartwarming response. “He was so understanding and told me that he was happy that I was healthy again.” With that conversation, Benitez made her college decision without a second glance. “I stopped looking at other schools and decided to go to one of the coldest places in Minnesota without ever seeing snow.”

Experiencing Minnesota

From there, the beginning of Benitez’s college career was marked by a series of firsts, including her first time in Minnesota, let alone Duluth, a city well known for its winter weather. A few months later, she experienced Duluth’s notorious snowfall for the first time. Lucky for her, Benitez’s coaches and teammates helped her prepare, offering advice from several years of experience to dress in layers. “Make sure that you listen to the people who have lived here for a long time,” she chuckled. Despite the initial cold shoulder from the weather, Benitez now enjoys typical winter activities, including sledding across campus, building snowmen and even glow tubing.

Now in her junior year with a double major in Psychology and Biology, Benitez is more than well-adjusted to life as a Saint in the winter months and beyond. She has found opportunities to connect with fellow tennis players and other international students. In fact, she currently serves as the president of the International Club on campus. In this role, she works closely with the Office of International Programs to offer social and informational programming to serve other international students, the college campus and the local community.

Benitez credits the St. Scholastica community with helping create the sense of home she has longed for since leaving Ecuador. This warm sense of belonging has surpassed any hesitation she might have felt about the cold a few years ago: “I am away from home, but not in a weird sense. All the people here have such a strong sense of community and helping each other that this place also feels like home.”

Mishell Benitez on campus in the snow.