A new student roaming the halls of Comsewogue High School is getting into a New York state of mind.
Ponrakit Puorcharoen journeyed to Long Island from Thailand this year to attend school because he “wanted to learn about a new culture.”
The 15-year-old foreign exchange student, who goes by the nickname Rio, hails from Nonthaburi, a city near Bangkok and the Gulf of Thailand.
Rio said in a phone interview that he did not get to choose where he was going to be placed, and did not know much about New York before arriving stateside. His host family — Lynellen and Rick Nielsen and their sons, Jeremy and Josh — has tried to show him around, taking him to New York City. He saw the Museum of Modern Art and Times Square, which Rio thinks is “crazy, with the amount of people there.”
His family in Port Jefferson Station got involved in part because of the host mom’s childhood memories.
“When I was a child, my family had a foreign exchange student, and it was a really positive experience,” Lynellen Nielsen said in a phone interview. “I thought it was something that Jeremy should experience as well.”
Jeremy is a senior at Comsewogue High School, two years ahead of Rio, while Josh is enrolled at Hunter College.
Lynellen Nielsen described the process of applying for the foreign exchange program as “serendipitous.”
She and her family had considered hosting a student many times, but didn’t begin the process until she discovered a friend of hers had begun working for the International Student Exchange Programs. After the family applied, Nielsen said once the organization approved them, they were able to choose from a number of students to host for the year.
“We saw [Rio] had similar interests, like animals, cooking, technology and art,” she said. “We thought he would be a great match.”
Although Rio arrived in the United States on Aug. 9, he didn’t get to Long Island until Aug. 22 because he went though a training program.
“His first question when he walked into our house was, ‘What’s the Wi-Fi password?’ so he’s just like any other kid around here,” Nielsen said with a laugh.
Since Rio has adjusted to his new living situation, he and his host family have been able to bond over many different activities. He has cooked basil pork and other traditional Thai dishes for the family, and the host mom, in turn, introduced him to strawberry pie and banana bread.
In terms of school life, Rio said he has not found many differences between school in America and school in Thailand. He said the only real difference is that students don’t get to choose the classes they take back home, and that Americans use the word “soccer” for the same sport he calls “football,” which he finds “a little weird.”
“My favorite thing to do so far has just been relaxing with the family,” Rio said. “They are very chill.”