Groton - Starting high school is hard enough. It's even tougher when you're a student like Diego Andrianzen, who moved to Groton from Peru ahead of freshman year.
"I already knew some of the language, but I had to get accustomed to the culture," Andrianzen said.
For most students, high school life gets easier. But that's not how things worked out for Andrianzen.
Andrianzen's mother had moved her children to Groton to live with a man she had met through mutual friends. The pair spent six months talking on the phone before the move, talking about their shared background and common Christian faith, eventually making plans to get married.
Just as Andrianzen was starting to feel like he belonged in Groton, the family was forced to move again. His mother's relationship turned bad, and she moved Andrianzen and his sister to a shelter in New London, where they spent six months.
"It was a really bad experience," Andrianzen said. "We came from another country then this man treated us badly. We had nowhere to go."
An attorney working pro bono helped the family obtain permanent resident status through a program aimed at victims of domestic abuse.
Until about six months ago, Andrianzen, his mother and his 14-year-old sister lived in a home on Jay Street in New London for victims of domestic violence and their families.
Andrianzen credited much of his success to his church, Oasis of Restoration in New London, which has helped him and his family build a network of support in an unfamiliar country.
Though it all, Andrianzen focused on his studies and his faith. He enrolled in difficult classes and earned a placement in Fitch's International Baccalaureate program.
"Pretty much all of my time I'm at church or at school," he said. "I keep myself busy."
When he isn't in class or at church, where he is active in his youth group, Andrianzen likes to ride his bike through New London and spend his summer days at the beach.
An honors student, he will be attending Worcester Polytechnic Institute in the fall, where he plans to study computer engineering. He was also accepted at Northeastern University in Boston and Drexel University in Philadelphia.
"My father was an engineer in Peru, so I've always wanted to go into that field myself," Andrianzen said.
Through aid from the school and private scholarships, all but $1,000 of Andrianzen's annual tuition, room and board is covered.
Andrianzen's success has made him a role model for other students at Fitch.
"He really is just an exceptional student," said Fitch Principal Joe Arcarese. "Despite all his challenges, he has excelled, and now he's going to WPI."
Andrianzen said he was fortunate to be able to stay at Fitch, despite living in New London for most of his high school career. Starting when he was staying in the shelter, a car picked him up and drove him to school in time for the 7:30 bell.
Four years since arriving in the country, the family finally has its own home, an apartment on Federal Street in New London. The small apartment is clean and quiet, a noticeable change from the often loud and rambunctious public housing complex.
"It's good to finally be home," he said.