Exchange students find their place in community
For Diego Castillo of Mexico and Nodari Lomidze of Georgia, Hillsboro isn’t as different as some might think. The two have become just like other students at Hillsboro High School.
The two foreign exchange students have enjoyed their school year, making new friends, living with American families, and immersing themselves in the local culture including the junior-senior prom Saturday.
Living in a different country is nothing new for Diego. The 18-year-old lived in Germany for a year when he was 14.
“The culture was way different between Germany and America,” he said.
When Diego decided he wanted to be a student in the U.S., he didn’t want to be in the southern states where the Mexican culture is more prevalent.
Nodari competed in a scholastic competition with 100 students chosen to study abroad. This was his first visit to the U.S.
“It’s more busy with more opportunities,” he said. “I can take business classes not available in Georgia,” the 17-year-old high school senior said.
Diego has been to the U.S. numerous times — he previously lived only two hours from the U.S.-Mexico border. He has visited Disneyland in California about every two years but this is the longest he’s stayed in America.
“I expected America to be like in the movies,” he said, “but it isn’t.”
The biggest difference for the high school junior was the difference in climates.
“There are four seasons in Kansas in a week,” Diego said.
This winter was the first time Diego ever saw snow. Seasons aren’t as dramatic in Mexico, he said, as they in the U.S. Instead of tornadoes and thunderstorms, there are earthquakes and volcanoes.
“I live an hour from an active volcano, so there are ash storms sometimes,” he said.
Nodari’s school has all grades on one campus with about 1,000 students, much different than HHS with a couple hundred students.
In Diego’s class of 72 students, teachers change classrooms, not the students.
Diego has a 12-year-old brother and Nodari has a 12-year-old sister back home. There are times they get lonely for home and their friends but staying active in Hillsboro helps.
“I used to call every weekend,” Nodari said. “Now I call once every two weeks.”
“It’s difficult to talk to friends back home because it will make me miss home,” Diego said. “I mainly talk to my mom.”
The two also have participated in cross-country, wrestling, and tennis. Nodari has enjoyed competing with the chess club and helping with the Marion County United Soccer Club.
“We don’t have football in Georgia; we have soccer,” he explained.
Lyndon and Dorie Thiessen are the host parents for Diego. Nodari’s host parents are Ronald and Kaylene Mueller.
Diego has especially enjoyed spending time with his host brothers who are close to his age, specifically youth group Wednesday evenings at Parkview Mennonite Church.
When the two students complete their studies next month in Hillsboro, they will return home. Diego has another year of high school at Puebla and is interested in becoming an architect, specifically designing houses.
Nodari will return May 10 to Georgia so he can take final exams to graduate. He plans to study business at the state university in Georgia.
Overall, the experience has been positive.
“Students are friendly,” Nodari said. “Being involved in school activities and sports were great experiences.”
Speaking in fluent English, Nodari explained that students in his country learned English as a second language at a young age.
If given the opportunity, both said they would come back to Hillsboro to visit host families and the friends they’ve made.
“I want to thank the Hillsboro community and my host family for hosting me,” Nodari said. “I had a great time here.”
Diego echoed Nodari’s sentiments.
“I also want to thank Parkview Mennonite Church,” he said. “The community is nice with open people.”