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MOUNT BLANCHARD — In August, Matija Veselinovic and Jorjani Sinsuat were strangers. Less than a year later, they return to their native countries as brothers.
Veselinovic is an exchange student from Serbia and Sinsuat makes his home in the Philippines. Each is an only child and each learned they were to spend their school year in America at Riverdale High School.
They also discovered upon their arrival they were both staying with Harry and Ann Launder near Forest. They have spent the past months sharing the same room, attending classes at the same school and experiencing for the first time in their lives what it would be like to have a brother.
“We are brothers separated by two continents,” said Sinsuat. “It’s been good. It has given me a chance to learn another culture in addition to the American culture.”
Living in the flat farmland of Ohio was a new world for the two teenagers. Veselinovic lives in a large city and walks wherever he needs to go.
“I’m used to a lot of noise,” he said. “Now we are in the middle of nowhere and everything is quiet and peaceful. I got acclimated to it pretty well. The hardest part was here everyone drives in cars. Since exchange students can’t drive, it gets complicated to get around … We are experiencing true American life.”
Sinsuat is accustomed to the tropics. His home, he said, is in the tropics and he is used to being near the ocean.
“Here there is no water,” he said. “But we have to be flexible enough to cope with our surroundings. I’ve not had any trouble with it here.”
The young men said as they rode their planes to America, they had an idea of what to expect. They had each been told they would attend Riverdale High School and Sinsuat immediately thought of the Archie cartoons he watched as a child, which were set in a school named Riverdale.
“I did meet a girl named Veronica,” he said with a laugh.
Once here, they said, they both were made to feel welcome by their host family, who have opened their home to ten other exchange students. But they were also made to feel comfortable by the students at Riverdale.
They participated in extracurricular activities for the first time in their scholastic lives.
“School was quite a bit different than in our school,” said Veselinovic. “There are no buses. We all walk to school. There are not as many after school activities at home. I will really miss band, choir, the quiz bowl and FFA.”
“The school system here goes a lot smoother for me than at home,” said Sinsuat. “We go a lot longer. We start at 7 a.m. and go to classes until 5 p.m. I think the American educational system helps students with hands-on learning. That is really an advantage. We don’t apply what we learn as much as we do here. I have helped with the yearbook, FFA and quiz bowl. It has helped me develop skills and self confidence. That is the best thing America gave me.”
As they prepare to return to their homelands, the teens said they will miss the quiet flat land where they met each other.
“As time went by, we considered this place our home,” said Sinsuat.
The boys said the food they experienced in America will be something they miss when they are home.
“I haven’t eaten as much rice here,” said Sinsuat. “I’ve gained 30 pounds.”
They both said they enjoyed eating new dishes prepared by their host mother, but will miss Mexican food the most.
They plan to keep in touch with each other through Facebook, said the teenagers.
“We came here where we didn’t know anyone and we managed to accomplish everything,” said Veselinovic. “We learned new things. We met new people. This has been a great life experience. It has made me more mature.”
Sinsuat said when he returns home, he will tell his family and friends America is not the skyscrapers of New York City or the White House.
“It is the people that make America,” he said.
Veselinovic is an exchange student in the A-SMYLE program and Sinsuat is part of the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study.
By DAN ROBINSON
Times staff writer