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Fri Oct 31 14:15:15 SAST 2014

'We are no different'

POPPY LOUW | 16 January, 2014 00:30
BLENDING IN: German exchange students Laura Fricke and Joschka Geczy during assembly on the first day of school at Ponelopele Oracle Secondary School in Ivory Park, Midrand, yesterday
Image by: LAUREN MULLIGAN

Teenagers "Rethabile Mokoena" and "Jabulani Mtshali" may be different from everyone else in the township, but they say the only thing different about them is their skin colour.

Real names Laura Fricke and Joschka Geczy, both 17 years old, are German exchange students who have been attending Ponelopele Oracle Secondary School in Ivory Park, Midrand, north of Johannesburg, since November last year.

They reported for their first day alongside 1269 pupils at the school yesterday and said they were looking forward to the new academic year as Grade 11 pupils.

The no-fee school produced Gauteng's top matriculant of 2013, Praise Ndebele, 18, who achieved eight distinctions, including full marks for maths and science.

"I am very impressed by the level of discipline at the school," Geczy said. "The teachers here take their work very seriously, ultimately leading to pupils taking their work seriously."

Fricke said the uniform gave them another sense of belonging. "It does not make us look and feel any different from the rest of the pupils and the teachers don't treat us any different from them," she said.

Fricke and Geczy are part of the AFS Intercultural Programme - an exchange programme operating in more then 50 countries.

They arrived in South Africa late last year and have been living with host families in Tembisa, East Rand, and Kaalfontein, Midrand.

They were named Rethabile ("we are happy" in Sesotho) and Jabulani ("rejoice" or "be happy" in isiZulu) by their host "mothers".

"My mom [Rosina Mokoena] is overprotective of me and my four 'sisters'. People here are friendly and very accommodating," Fricke said.

"I call my mother 'mom' and she treats me the same as she does my 'brothers'. I only feel different outside the house because people are fascinated by me living here," said Geczy.

His mom, Duduzile Mtshali, said she has loved "my Jabu" from the first day he arrived and having him around has been a blessing.

"His favourite meal is pap and 'iskopo' [meat from a cow's head]. I'm so blessed that he chose to leave home as the last born to come be my last born," Mtshali said.

The pair will be in the country until August.

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