International Students Join BSM Community

Imagine the first day of school. It’s a little stressful meeting new teachers, learning a new locker combination, finding friends to sit with at lunch. Now imagine the first day of school in an entirely new country–“a little stressful” doesn’t begin to cover it. The international students currently familiarizing themselves with BSM and the American culture come from Germany, Vietnam, and most predominantly, South Korea. “They’re just regular students who are here from a different country,” explained head of admissions, Mary Periolat. Many students can’t imagine the complete culture shock of landing in a new country and being educated there. “It’s hard for new kids to come into a school like BSM where students have been together for many years,” said Ms. Periolat , “but my own experience over the years has been that BSM kids embrace the international students. This is a great community…and I think the international students enrich it. They have so much to share with us.”
BSM works mainly with organizations Nacel Open Door and Education, Travel, and Culture (ETC) to enroll students from different countries at Benilde-St. Margaret’s, although some are independent students who have found their own host family. “They all apply, so we see their transcripts and records just like regular students,” said Ms. Periolat , “They’re not just here for the cultural experience–it matters what classes they take, and many of them are interested in going to American colleges.”
Many of this year’s international students are from South Korea because at this time students from Asian countries have the financial means to attend private schools, explained the exchange organizations. “We do see fewer European students–but then, of course, very few (if any) BSM students study abroad while in high school,” said Ms. Periolat.
Veronika Wendebourg
If Veronika Wendebourg could do one thing while she is in Minnesota, she would choose to attend a football game. “I’ve never seen one, and I think it’s so cool,” said Wendebourg.
Although students don’t have many activities at school in Germany, it doesn’t mean they don’t have fun. “The relationship between the teachers and students is completely different in Germany,” said Wendebourg. Teasing and having a friendship with teachers is not uncommon in her school.
Veronika is used to a more lenient authority: Her parents usually don’t “forbid” her to do anything, she does not have dating restrictions, and despite the fact she’s only 16, she has reached the drinking age in Germany.
She wants to visit Duluth because “the landscape [seems] quite pretty.” She is also amazed by the number of cars each family has. “[In Germany] we have so much public transportation,” said Wendebourg, and most families just ride bikes. (jen deglmann)
Jenny Joo
Fearless Jenny Joo was not nervous to settle in an unfamiliar place. Despite being approximately 6,000 miles from the familiarity of home, Joo said she was not scared the first time she entered her host family’s home.
The distance left Joo craving Korean food even though her thoughtful host family prepares rice for Joo hoping to give her a taste of home.Although Joo communicates through the Internet and pricey phone calls home, she is unable to have face to face communication with her family for one full year.
Nacel Open Door is the cultural exchange program that brought Joo to the doors of Benilde-St. Margaret’s. Nacel chose BSM for Jenny after she filled out a form indicating subjects she wanted to study. Joo finds the curriculum at BSM challenging because subjects are taught in different ways than what she is used to in South Korea. (katie mckeever)
Parker Park
Park, from South Korea, originally came to the United States one year ago and stayed with a host family in Mississippi. He had the choice of going to two other states after Mississippi, but he moved to Minnesota because “I went to [BSM’s] Web site and just liked it ” said Park.
Park seems to love it in Minnesota, and he says the weather is similar to South Korea’s. “[It’s] not that cold, not that hot,” Park said, and he doesn’t mind the snow either. Park said he snowboards pretty well and wants to go to a ski resort.
When Park is at home he spends his time going to malls, playing video games and computer games, and even dabbles in photography. He will be visiting South Korea this summer and then returning to Benilde-St.Margatet’s for his senior year. His plans after high school are a little fuzzy; “I need to go to college first,” said Park. (jen deglmann)
Jun Kyung Shin
Although she was nervous at first to make the switch and immerse herself in both a new country and a new family, Shin has discovered that the change was not as difficult as she expected. “I didn’t know what I had to do and I didn’t know what rules inside of that house,” said Shin, “It was like learning something new, but now I’m really feeling comfortable.” Staying with Mr. Joel Loecken, Shin has found that her experiences in America are not so different than those of her South Korean lifestyle.
One thing she misses most from South Korea is the food. “I know it’s funny, but food here and [in] Korea [are] really different of course…my favorite food was kimchi.” Kimchi, a traditional and spicy Korean dish is made of vegetables and assorted seasonings.
In South Korea, “they think Americans are always eating hamburgers and you’ll be really fat…Americans are pretty, like, scary,” said Shin. Her perspective has changed now, thanks to the welcoming environment of BSM. When she first came to Benilde-St. Margaret’s her first impression was that it “was a really small school, but it’s really friendly…the teachers are really good, and the curriculum’s really awesome,” said Shin.
Shin’s favorite classes are science and choir. Her passion for singing followed her from South Korea where she was the lead vocalist in a rock band.
One thing Shin was surprised to find was that most American students are involved in after school activities. “In Korea we didn’t really have to do the [activities] after school; where here, nearly everybody [has] one activity to do…it was a really big thing for me,” said Shin.
Now involved in math league and looking into cross country, Shin is enjoying the cold weather and looking forward to a summer back in South Korea with friends, family, and kimchi. (aimee brown)
Thi Hoang
Thi Hoang returns to BSM from Vietnam as a sophomore this year without her sister Nhu (who is currently attending Brandeis University) and without her previous worries. “My freshman year was really hard for me because my English wasn’t very good,” said Hoang, “I felt really alone…If you live here, you have to force yourself to blend into the environment. You can’t just go out and speak Vietnamese–[people] wouldn’t understand you.”
Hoang came to BSM because of her sister’s encouragement. “The way Americans teach is a free way–it makes you think about a problem. In Vietnam, a teacher just teaches and the student has to absorb it. If they don’t understand, then they fail,” said Hoang.
Trading in a typical Vietnamese meal of a soup with rice, meat, and a vegetable, Hoang has found that pizza and spaghetti top her list of American foods. She misses caramelized pork the most, but her host family bought a lot of easy Vietnamese cookbooks and now Hoang can get a taste of home while taking advantage of an American education. (kaia preus)
Alan Kim
Attending school in Canada provided Alan Kim, a junior at BSM, an opportunity to be thrown into the North American culture, so there were few surprises when he moved to Minnesota.

Kim searched throughout the Midwest for a school and decided on BSM because of the challenging curriculum and the opportunity to play the violin in BSM’s orchestra. Aside from orchestra practice, you might find Kim wearing jersey number 36 on the junior varsity soccer team.

Kim said that students live and breathe school in South Korea. Daily routines are drastically different from a student at BSM. Classes are twice as long as here at BSM and begin at 7 a.m. and are not let out until 9 p.m. Students eat both lunch and dinner at school.

Although it has only been a few weeks, Kim said, “people are very friendly, [it is] a very busy school, but I like it.” Alan plans to complete the rest of his high school career at Benilde-St. Margaret’s. (katie mckeever)
Sojin Jung
A suggestion from her parents prompted Sojin Jung to make the decision to travel all the way from South Korea to the United States. Jung said she was curious about America and drawn by the American dream.

Jung is joining BSM this year as a sophomore following her freshman year at an Illinois high school, Crystal Lake South. She says that coming to Benilde-St. Margaret’s “was just a random thing…I was just chosen randomly to come here.”
While she enjoys the food and is embracing a new environment, she said, “I never thought of school life…I never thought about how it was going to be hard,” said Jung.
Jung is glad she made the decision to come to the United States because it was important for her to learn English. “We must learn English,” she said, “I just kind of miss my family and friends a little bit, but I’m going to be okay.”
Finding herself immersed in a new world, she notices both slight and major differences between South Koreans and Americans. She finds that South Koreans are more shy and the school environment is more strict. South Korean schools require ten courses and their day starts at 7:40 a.m. and ends at 9:00 p.m. On average students get to bed at midnight. “Korean students think that…it’s weird [that] Americans students go to bed at 10 or 9 o’clock,” said Jung, because in South Korea, students are still studying at that time.
Jung is excited at the chance to get her driver’s license at 16, as the driving age in South Korea is 20. She said: “We don’t really need a car; we can walk everywhere we want to go.”
Jung is looking forward to next summer when she can see her family and friends back in South Korea, but until then, she is excited to experience more of the American culture at BSM.

Seoyoung Choi
Being thousands of miles away from home would be hard for most high school juniors, but Seoyoung Choi has had time to adapt to life in America prior to joining the BSM community.

Choi previously attended a school in Chicago, Illinois after coming from South Korea and becoming an exchange student for the first time. After loving her first American school, year she choose to stay in the USA, and her next destination became Minnesota.

Upon coming to BSM, Choi was happily surprised to see so many exchange students from her home country. “I like the opportunity to speak Korean,” she said, which was something she didn’t have back in Chicago.

Even with the comfort of fellow Korean-speaking students, Choi hasn’t wasted any time involving herself in sports and activities like math league. “I also tried swim team, but it was so hard,” she said. Choi also hopes to become a member of BSM’s track team.

Choi has been impressed with BSM students involved in sports. “People who do sports,… they do sports but they’re also good at everything. They’re good at so many things,” she said. She also said this doesn’t intimidate her because she likes the change and is here to stay.

Overall, Choi does admit that she sometimes misses her home — all the relationships between friends, family, teachers — but doesn’t miss it enough to want to leave. (shannon cunnien)

Hugh Lee
Hugh Lee is an exchange student turned legal immigrant. He first came to BSM last year as an exchange student from South Korea but now resides with his mom while his older sister attends the University of Minnesota.

Hugh and his mother have decided to become legal immigrants to “stay close to my sister,” Lee said. Lee plans to attend college in the United States as well and insists he “will live here forever.”

While most of his immediate family has moved to the USA, his father still lives in South Korea. The separated family stays in touch with daily messenger and online video chats. “I’ve gotten used to it… It’s like I’m living with him, really,” said Lee.

Like many students at BSM, Lee is attracted to the sports and activities and also really likes the teachers. But his favorite part of school is his fellow students. “Students are nice to me. I’m a different race but they treat me like a real friend,” Lee said. He has become so comfortable and has felt so accepted at BSM that he doesn’t even see himself as an exchange student anymore; “I’m an immigrant,” said Lee. (shannon cunnien)