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Two private schools welcome 49 exchange students

September 07, 2010|By JANET HEIM
  • Grace Academy students gather around Korean foreign exchange student Jay Kang as he tries chocolate pudding Wednesday during a break between classes.
Ric Dugan, Staff Photographer

It seemed like an impossible feat -- finding host families in the Hagerstown area for at least 40 middle school-aged Korean exchange students.

But Brian Kelley, the international student program coordinator at Grace Academy, said within six weeks he had home visits arranged with more potential host families than he needed.

Now, 47 Korean and two Chinese students are spending the school year at Grace Academy and Broadfording Christian Academy, with a waiting list of host families. The students flew into Washington Dulles International Airport on Aug. 17 and 18.

The students are in grades six to 10, and their English skills vary widely.

They are here through a newly formed partnership between the two Washington County private schools and Global Vision Christian School of South Korea. Samuel Pak, the international program director for the program called Global Education Mission, said there are more than 200 Korean exchange students in the United States.

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He said he chose the Hagerstown schools for the exchange program because of the proximity to Washington, D.C., airports, their strong academic and Christian programs, and their willingness to take on such a large commitment. Pak said he visited schools in Baltimore, Frederick, Md., Richmond, Va., and Martinsburg, W.Va.

"After our first conversation, we clicked. Some other people had doubts and it never materialized," Pak said.

Five Korean teachers -- including two married couples and a tae kwon do master -- are here through June to assist with teaching and to improve their own English skills.

Korean students are required to earn second-degree black belts to graduate from Global Vision Christian School. Grace and Broadfording students will have a chance to learn the martial art.

"I just look at it as a great cross-cultural experience. It's a fantastic program," Broadfording Administrator Bill Wyand said.

Most of the Korean students in the program participated in a five-week summer camp in Korea that prepared them for being away from their families. By most reports, the transition has been a smooth one, Grace Academy Headmaster Jack Appleby said.

"The teachers are so kind, peaceful and lovely to students," said Daniel Kang, 16.

He said he likes the technology available through the SMARTboard labs and he thinks the academic expectations are higher here.

"It's hard to be away from family, but I have to do for my English. I want to learn more English. I want to experience culture in an American school," Daniel said.

He said his host family is like "real family to me."

Thanks to computers, the Korean students are able to e-mail their families and, in some cases, communicate through webcams.

Mina Kim, 16, traveled to the U.S. before with her parents and is looking forward to the year ahead.

"I want to learn English well. It's a good experience," she said.

Mina, whose goal is to attend a university in the United States and become a lawyer, said she is enjoying her host family, which has four grown children.

Appleby said the goal is for this to become an annual exchange. He supports the global nature of the exchange and said the high academic standards of the Korean students will allow Grace Academy to diversify and increase the rigor of academics at the school.

There will be opportunities for host families, who receive a monthly stipend, and their exchange students to attend group cookouts. Day trips and an international night also might be planned.

"I think they've acclimated well to their host families. It's been overwhelmingly positive," Kelley said. "It's a neat experience to see. They've really embraced it."

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