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Hi-Line Living: Goodbye Hi-Line

A South Korean exchange student says "Anyoung hee gyeseyo" as she prepares to return home

 

Havre Daily News/Ryan Welch

SeRim Jeong spent the last year in Havre, far away from home.

Jeong, who will turn 16 years old June 25, is from Seodaemun District in the South Korean capital city of Seoul, but she spent the school year living with a host family and studying at Havre High School.

In Korea, Jeong is the only child of parents who are former English teachers and she lives with her parents as well as an aunt and cousin.

Jeong, who arrived in Havre about a week before the 2017-18 school year started, said she didn't choose where she would study in the United States; it was the host family that chose her.

Debi and Dave Rhines and their daughter Angela were the host family to Jeong during her time in the United States.

The family offered to host Jeong through the student exchange program, ASSE  International Exchange Program-Western Region. The ASSE, formerly known as the American Scandinavian Student Exchange, is a nonprofit organization that looks for host families, in cooperation with local high schools, for students aged 15-18 who want to live in and experience American culture.

Rhines said they looked through a portfolio with girls around their daughter's age who were interested in studying in the U.S. They then looked for girls who had some common interests with their daughter and they saw on Jeong's file that she liked piano and shopping, just like their daughter.

Rhines added that she thought it was important to find similarities between their potential exchange student and their daughter - a sort-of common ground.

"It was also important to have a student who was Catholic," she said.

Once they found Jeong, they thought she was definitely the right fit for them, so they reached out to the ASSE to set up the exchange.

Adjusting to life and high school in a foreign country

Jeong said she feels lucky to have been placed with the Rhines family, adding that they were always kind and patient with her and never expressed anger when she was struggling with English.

They didn't know or understand a lot of things before SeRim arrived, Rhines said, adding that there were language as well as cultural challenges.

To be exchange parents, it is important to "have an open mind and an open heart," she added.

"There are cultural differences ... in America, we are big eaters," Rhines said, adding that it takes compromise. She said the family started eating smaller meals at night and realized it was actually a good thing not going to bed with such a full stomach.

Jeong agreed with this sentiment, saying one of the hardest parts of adjusting to American culture was getting used to the larger portion sizes.

Though she could have been placed in a larger city, she said she is glad she ended up in Havre.

"It is very quiet and peaceful," Jeong said. "It has clean air."

She was able to have the freedom to walk around by herself, Rhines added, because she was placed in a city like Havre.

Jeong said she also felt more free when it came to going to school in Havre.

"I don't like wearing school uniforms (in my South Korean middle school) ... we can't wear accessories or make-up," she said. "... There is a hair-length rule."

Another difference she noticed between the two school systems is the role of teachers.

"I like the teachers at Havre High School ... they are like friends. ... Mr. Haugen (the principal) even helped me study for government," Jeong said, adding she was appreciative that she could go and ask for help from teachers after school.

In South Korea, she said, the students, instead of asking teachers, would be attending an afterschool Cram School or Hagwon.

These kinds of private Cram Schools are common in Asian countries to supplement the education students receive in their schools and to help them improve their test scores or tutor them in subjects they may be having trouble in.

During her time in Havre, Jeong said, she realized "I can just learn from teachers and textbooks."

Jeong said she has half a year more of middle school to finish when she returns to Seoul and then after that, she has three years of high school. She added that she is nervous for high school because "it is going to be harder; you have to stay late."

After high school, she said she is planning to go to university because if people don't go to university it is hard to get a job, she said, adding that she would like to possibly attend university in the United States.

She doesn't know what she wants to study yet, but after taking a career-test in South Korea, she thinks an art-related job might be good, adding that she likes to play piano and draw.

At Havre High School, she joined the swim team that her host sister belonged to. She said it was good because she learned how to swim, but she prefers art more.

Jeong said she didn't join any other activities while attending Havre High because her focus was on studying English and improving in her government and history classes.

When it comes to what she will miss when she leaves Havre, she said that the freedom she had while living here will be hard to leave, as well as living near so much nature.

In South Korea, she said, she wasn't able to see a lot of animals and she also couldn't go swimming easily, which she really enjoyed doing with friends at Fresno Reservoir.

"In Seoul, you have to leave the city to find a place like that," Jeong added.

She misses South Korean food, but says she will also miss her host mom's soup and stir-fry.

"I could also eat rice everyday because my host family had a rice-cooker," Jeong said, adding that her favorite restaurant foods in Havre were Pizza Hut pasta and the steak at Andy's Supper Club.

Going Home

Jeong's mother, Jinok Kang came to Havre to accompany her daughter to Los Angeles, where they have family, before they go home to Seoul.

"She had so many experiences," Kang said, adding that she is happy her daughter was able to study in a small town like Havre, with a great host family like the Rhines.

Kang said jokingly that having Jeong studying abroad for a year was like a "mom vacation" for her, but she couldn't wait to bring her home.

She added that she hopes her daughter can help her with her English.

Kang said she was worried that Jeong wouldn't be able to keep up with her piano skills while in Havre, but she was very happy that her daughter had the opportunity to play piano and that her host mother encouraged her to keep playing.

When it comes to the daughter she was picking up, compared to the daughter she sent to America last year, Kang said that before Jeong was shy, "but now she can insist ... now she has a voice."

"It will be hard to see her leave; we will miss her a lot," Rhines said, adding that the family would love to have the chance to visit her in South Korea some day.

Cindy Keeney of the ASSE Student Exchange Program-Western Regional Office, said that the organization doesn't place a large number of students in Havre, but the ones they have placed, including Jeong and a student from Germany this year, have had positive reactions to living and studying here.

Havre Daily News/Ryan Welch

Keeney said the number of students they place depend on finding host families and also the number of students a high school program can take.

"Students from certain places seem to like coming to smaller cities," she added. "In smaller schools they can make friends more easily ... and participate in activities."

"Smaller cities embrace these students," Keeney added.

"We are always looking for host families," she added. "We hope to have more (in Havre) in the future."

Rhines, whose family has hosted two students including Jeong, said she would encourage families to consider hosting international students.

There are challenges, she added, but there always comes "joy from the challenge."

 

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