Fifteen exchange students from various parts of Korea were welcomed by St. Lawrence Christian School students and staff earlier this month.
The principal of St. Lawrence School, Beth Hamilton, said welcoming the 15 students from such a different cultural background has been an exciting experience since their arrival on Jan. 10.
“It’s been a pleasure to see the students find different ways to communicate with each other,” said Hamilton.
The students got the opportunity to study in the United States through an international study-abroad program based in Connecticut called JY Education. The program was founded and is directed by Dr. Jin Young Park, who studied at universities in the United States as well as in Korea.
Dr. Park said when the students first arrived some of them were more apprehensive than others because of the new environment and language barrier, but with just a little over a week in the new country and school, she has seen their mind-set change for the better.
“They don’t want to leave,” said Dr. Park.
On top of being exposed to a new education system, the young students from Korea, ranging from third to eighth grade, also are getting the chance to experience what it’s like to live in a home in America, as they are all staying with host families located in Shelton.
The consensus of the students was they are loving the chance they have to live with their host families.
JiYun Park, one of the Korean exchange students, compared her host family’s mother to an “angel” and said she has been enjoying American food, but more specifically chicken nuggets. She also said the teachers have been nice and helpful during their adjustment time.
Dr. Park translated for JiYun and another student named Yeoungtak Lee, who both said they love schools in America more than back home.
“They said they like that it’s less competitive and everyone is more willing to work together,” said Dr. Park. “In Korea, school is more lectures, but here there is more participation and teachers are listening to kids.”
St. Lawrence teachers used books about Korean folk tales and culture as well as Google Earth maps to help prepare their classes to welcome the visitors. Most of the teachers uploaded a translation app to their phones just in case communication came to a “standstill,” according to Hamilton.
The Korean students follow St. Lawrence students through a regular school day. In some classes, it has been easier to engage the students than others, according to Hamilton.
During gym class, the older boys impressed the middle school students with their basketball skills but weren’t familiar with games such as floor hockey.
Despite the language barrier, the teachers are noticing the students playing games and creating their own means of communicating with each other. The St. Lawrence students are reaching out with kindness as their visitors navigate the unfamiliar classroom routines.
Although the St. Lawrence students haven’t physically traveled to Korea, Hamilton said, the exchange students aren’t the only ones who are learning from the experience.
“The students are all learning that although they are much different in terms of their cultures, they are all the same and are children at the end of the day,” said Hamilton.
Dr. Park said some students Skype their parents every night and miss their families, but most of them are already sad to be leaving at the end of the month.
The students leave for Korea on Jan. 30 but are getting the chance to participate in a school wide talent show and potluck dinner on Jan. 29 in celebration of their stay.