Jenny Guo flexes her hands and slides onto a piano bench. Seated before the instrument she has played since age 6, the 19-year-old Camden Catholic High School senior feels at home.

This is good, considering she is nearly 7,500 miles from Shanghai, China, the city she has called home since birth.

Guo currently lives and studies at Camden Catholic as part of the school's new international-student boarding program. She lives with 18 Chinese and Korean students in Nazareth House, a three-story building next to Camden Catholic once used for student or staff retreats.

Camden Catholic has enrolled international students since 2006, but it had not concerned itself with housing them until now. They stayed with local host families; indeed, 32 of the 51 international students currently enrolled still do.

But now, thanks to the refurbishment of Nazareth House, international students have the option, for a price, to learn and live on campus.

Establishing a boarding program was largely the initiative of new president Jeffrey Nick, who started at Camden Catholic last year.

"I've always been impressed by these schools that have boarding components. They change the nature of the school community because they make the school a 24/7 place," Nick said.

Hoping to borrow some of that vibrancy for Camden Catholic, Nick and several administrators assembled a proposal last fall to convert the vacant Nazareth House into a dormitory for up to 50 students.

The board of directors approved the plan, and the administrators got to work. Although Nazareth had been an "unused asset," as Nick put it, for years, it did not require extensive repairs. Students helped tidy up the building during their service hours.

In the spring, Nazareth House received its first applicants. By summer, 18 international students had moved in.

Some were returning to the school, like Guo. She attended Camden Catholic last year, staying with a host family. She began this year with another family, but she did not like the circumstances and requested to transfer to Nazareth House.

Camden Catholic English teacher Lisa Borreggine is director of international students and resident life. She is in charge of making sure students receive support while at Camden Catholic.

This support comes in the form of special attention - which comes at a cost.

All international students are charged a fee of $1,850 for the services Camden Catholic provides for them, such as a college counselor.

The fee, which does not include uniforms, is added to tuition, making it about $10,000 for international students. Domestic student tuition is $7,550, before fees.

Nazareth House residents also must pay for room and board, which costs $15,000 to $19,000, depending on whether students are enrolled in an after-school ESL program.

All told, Nazareth House residents pay between $25,000 and $29,000 to live on-campus - more than in-state college students pay to attend and live at Rutgers University or the College of New Jersey.

Although 19 students currently live at Nazareth House, the dormitory has room for 31 more.

According to Borreggine, the school is not far from reaching that goal - she has already received 12 applications from students hoping to board there next semester.

And although plans for Nazareth House were drawn up with housing international students in mind, Borreggine says the boarding program is open to "anyone who is interested" from outside the region.

Naturally, she added, domestic students would need to be screened by Camden Catholic first.

Camden Catholic administrators screened international student applicants via Skype interviews to test their English skills, Borreggine said. The candidates also had to submit test scores and paperwork.

Once Camden Catholic accepted them, they needed to work out how to get into the United States. Some had visa issues. Others, flight delays.

But once they arrived at Camden Catholic, the bumpy road smoothed, resident adviser Chris Coppola said.

He said students were talking one another's ears off by the first night.

Coppola is as impressed with the students' work ethic and enthusiasm as he is with their camaraderie.

"We encourage them to be in at least one extracurricular activity - but it hasn't been an issue. They jumped at the chance to join," Coppola said.

Many students, like Guo, said they came to America for just that opportunity.

"I don't like the Chinese education system. . . . The scores and the grades are the only things universities care about. I don't like that. It's like I can't do anything else except for studying," Guo said.

She studies at Camden Catholic - but she also plays piano for Mass, jazz band, play band, concert band, and field band.

Contact staff writer Emily Brill at 856-779-3882 or ebrill@philly.com.