Vidalia High School welcomes exchange students

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 2, 2006

VIDALIA &8212; Linus Ahn and Guilherme Moratti came to America to learn, but so far they&8217;ve been the educators.

Ahn, 15, of South Korea and Moratti, 17, of Brazil are exchange students at Vidalia High School. Both started school in January and are living with Vidalia families.

The boys said the day at Vidalia High is structured somewhat like what they are used to, but the classes are easier. At their home schools &8212; both private academies &8212; students take more subjects and have more responsibilities, like cleaning the school in Ahn&8217;s case.

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At their new homes, things are comfortable but not like their real homes, they said.

&8220;I feel like I&8217;m camping,&8221; Ahn said at his host home.

Ahn is staying with Troy and Shirley Thomas in a house &8212; not an apartment like he&8217;s used to.

He&8217;s not homesick yet, he said, but he probably will be by the time he goes home in a year.

The feelings aren&8217;t the same for his mother in Korea, who talks frequently with Shirley Thomas about missing her son.

&8220;I&8217;m just glad to have him,&8221; Thomas said. &8220;I&8217;ve already gotten attached to him. My husband is concerned about when he has to leave. He already feels like a son to me.&8221;

Hosting an exchange student was always something Thomas wanted to do, but life never allowed until now.

&8220;My son needed some companionship, and I still had a lot of love I wanted to share with someone&8217;s child.&8221;

T.J. Thompson is a year older than Ahn, and the boys share two classes at VHS.

T.J. has played tour guide at school, but he said most of his friends are pretty interested in Ahn and have taken over his time.

The boys play basketball in the yard &8212; a new sport for Ahn &8212; and T.J. wants him to see one of his school football games.

At Moratti&8217;s temporary home, he plays the role of big brother to 9-year-old Chelsea, a role he&8217;s used to from his own little brother.

&8220;It&8217;s been really fun since he&8217;s been here,&8221; Chelsea said. &8220;It&8217;s been unusual because I&8217;m used to being the only (child). When we get off the bus I notice him beside me and I&8217;m like whoah.&8221;

Chelsea&8217;s the real reason Alfred and Jackie Beach wanted to host an exchange student, they said.

&8220;I want her to learn different cultures and languages,&8221; Alfred said. &8220;I want her to know that there&8217;s more people out there than around here.&8221;

Moratti&8217;s been nervous since the start, he said, but it&8217;s getting better.

&8220;The first week it was very difficult for me,&8221; he said. &8220;Weekends are difficult. During the week I go to school, but if I stay in my bedroom I get lonely (for home).&8221;

The Beaches are teaching Moratti English, and he&8217;s teaching Chelsea Portuguese. But when the communication gets tough, it&8217;s Chelsea that serves as translator. The third-grader can figure out what he&8217;s trying to say before her parents, Alfred said.

Moratti is on a six-month exchange program, short enough to prevent extreme homesickness, but long enough for fishing weather, Alfred said. He&8217;s already seen the boat, and the father and new-son duo is just waiting for the right time to hit the lake.

&8220;He teaches me something and I teach him something,&8221; Alfred said. &8220;He&8217;s educating me too.&8221;

For Jackie, Moratti is the second child she&8217;s wanted to have around for years. And the family is already looking at hosting another exchange student once his time is up.

Exchange students come with health insurance and spending money. Host families are responsible for meals.