International Students Return Home for the Summer

Aimee Brown

A commitment to learn abroad requires making certain sacrifices, such as not seeing your family, friends, or home until summer vacation.  For Hugh Lee and Jun Shin, both South Korean exchange students, summer break is their once-a-year chance to return to their native country.

This is Lee and Shin’s senior year and both have attended Benilde-St. Margaret’s since their sophomore year. “I attended Highland High School, a public high school in Anderson, Indiana, in 9th grade. After my first year in Indiana, I moved to Minnesota to go to BSM because foreign exchange students can go to public schools only for a year,” said Lee, a permanent immigrant to the United States as of last year.

Every summer, since they have come to study in the U.S. for the school year, Lee and Shin have taken the 18-hour flight to South Korea in order to reconnect with family and friends. “I sleep through the whole flight. It was kind of weird the first time, but I got better,” said Shin.

The long distance between their old homes and their new ones did not stop these two from being thrilled to be here. “I found it really exciting to be separate from my family because I don’t have to be constrained [by] my family. I can be more independent and get rid of some Korean stereotypes,” said Lee.

However, the distance has made it hard for Lee and Shin to stay in contact with their loved ones. “I can talk to them through e-mail and Facebook, but it doesn’t seem like we are close enough to share what’s going on. I miss the days where me and my friends could chat together face to face,” said Shin.

While most students are off to cabins and thinking about anything but school, Lee and Shin were busy reconnecting with their culture and studying for the next year. “On the weekends, I met my friends and hung out. However, on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I had to go to Hak-won which is an education academy where you can learn English,” said Lee.

However, it does not end with reviewing English to prepare these students for the upcoming school year. Lee and Shin must also study from the textbooks of the courses they will be taking. “Sometimes we can find the text books at the Kyobo bookstore, which is the biggest bookstore in Korea, and read through them during the summer…What we do most to study the classes of the next year…is getting a personal teacher,” said Lee.

There are many differences between South Korea and the U.S. Even though South Korea has McDonalds, Outback Steakhouse, and High School Musical, there are significant distinctions separating the two. “I think the driving age in America is my favorite, although I can’t drive because we drive at 20 in Korea,” said Shin.

One of the most obvious and most difficult contrasts between the cultures these students must face, however, is the language. “The language difference is the most challenging factor…because sometimes I cannot understand what my friends say and it’s embarrassing,” said Lee.

Shin agrees. “I think I need one week to convert my brain into Korean or English,” said Shin.

Despite their struggles with converting between languages, both Lee and Shin have decided they wish to continue their studying in America through college. “I’m planning to attend both college and graduate school in America,” said Lee.

Shin is on the same track. “I plan on going to the U of M or Wisconsin-Madison,” said Shin.

Although they both plan to continue visiting South Korea, Lee and Shin are both in this country for the long run. “Because, that way, I can have more opportunities in my life,” said Shin.

Lee and Shin have enjoyed the broad range of experiences they have had in America. “It’s actually quite exciting to regularly live in different countries. The Unites States and Korea have totally different cultures so it’s very fun to experience both cultures,” said Lee.