Exchange Program Brings Korean Student to PHS
Plainview High School Assistant Principal Donette Sabins and her husband Rocky were sitting around the dining table on Labor Day playing games with family members when the phone rang. It was a recorded message about the need for host families for foreign exchange students.
The call piqued Donette’s interest, since she has experience as a host parent. Eleven years ago, she took over as a host parent for an exchange student from Germany, Marlena, when the girl’s original host family had to move. Donette had developed a relationship with the girl who was a student in Sabins’ class, and when she was asked to consider opening her home to the girl as a host parent so that Marlena could complete the school year in the states, she willingly took on the responsibility.
“It proved to be an awesome experience that enriched my life,” Sabins said, adding that she maintained contact with Marlena after she returned to Germany and even went to visit the family there during Christmas 2003. Donette, who married Rocky in 2005, shared her hosting experience with her husband and they considered the possibility of becoming host parents prior to receiving the recorded call on Labor Day.
That evening, the coupled again talked about the possibility of acting as host parents and went online to check out the AYUSA Global Youth Exchange website. The Sabins sent an e-mail requesting further information.
With a Sept. 8 deadline three days away, the organization sent an immediate response to the Sabins’ email with information about the application process. The Sabins also were provided with a password that allowed them to access profiles of students waiting for a host family. Once approved, the couple was asked to make a first, second and third choice. Within a few hours of sending in the choices, they learned that they would become hosts to their first choice, a 16-year-old Korean boy named Hyun woo Kang, and he would be arriving within a few days.
Hyun woo Kang, or Jason Wang as he is now known at Plainview High School, received the news on the deadline day that he had a host family and would be making the trip from his home in Daegu in the Republic of South Korea to Texas.
Kang, who was in his first year of high school in Korea, applied to become an exchange student because he wanted to experience another culture and felt it was a good way to improve his English skills.
He pointed out that there are many differences in the educational system he is experiencing in the states.
“American education is easier and free,” said Kang. “In Korea, I usually go to school at 7:45 a.m. and finish at 9 p.m.”
Korean classes have 41-44 students in each classroom, with boys and girls attending separate classes or, in some cases, separate schools. Students are assigned to a classroom for one year; they do not move from class to class as they do in U.S. high schools. Instead, teachers change classrooms. Students are also expected to bow to teachers and other adults as a form of respect.
Sabins said Jason already has experienced one dynamic aspect of the exchange — becoming a part of the PHS student body. His classmates have welcomed him and made him feel at home on campus.
This week, in honor of International Education Week, Kang and PHS Student Council members attended a luncheon that combined American hot dogs with Korean foods. Kang shared two of his traditional foods — an edible, dried seaweed called kim and kimichi, a traditional Korean dish made of cabbage, vegetables and spices. During the luncheon, he also taught his classmates how to handle Korean chopsticks.
Kang said he is very proud of Korea and wants Americans to know that Korea is a very developed country and that many large companies such as Samsung, LG, Hyundai and Kia have facilities and are doing business there.
Living in a house also is a change for Kang since, he said, Korean families live in apartment buildings that have between 20 and 50 floors. When they enter the house, they remove their shoes.
Becoming Kang’s “American family” has been a good experience for the whole Sabin family, which includes Rocky’s children Sarah, Timothy and Christian. Rocky is also involved in the Big Brother program, and Kang is building a relationship with the Rocky’s “little brother” as well.
Donette said she is looking forward to sharing traditional American holidays and family celebrations with Kang. Having already experienced cotton stripping, American football and the hot air balloon festival in Albuquerque, N.M., they have plans to visit area attractions such as Palo Duro Canyon and Carlsbad Caverns.
Kang said his funniest experience here so far happened during a layover at the airport in Houston while on his way to Plainview. He was tired and hungry and went to a McDonald’s. Not confident about ordering in English, he simply asked for a cheeseburger. The clerk asked him several more questions. Kang, not able to understand what she was asking, chose to simply answer “yes.” After paying what seemed to him to be a large amount for a cheeseburger, the clerk handed him his order — two cheeseburgers, two orders of fries and a Coke.
Now, two months into his nine-month exchange, Kang said he misses his family, friends and Korean food, but knows there are benefits to being in Texas. His English skills are improving and he has made many new friends.
He now calls Plainview his second hometown.
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