Life for a South Korean student in Cassville

Wednesday, November 6, 2013
Chang Gyu

Life for a high school student is decidedly different in Chang Gyu Im's native country of South Korea. A difference that begins in the way a student's day is scheduled.

"School begins at 7:55 a.m. each day and ends at 9 p.m.," said Im. "Most students skip breakfast because we don't have a lot of time."

Im came to the Cassville area in early August as part of the foreign exchange program called Face the World. He attends Cassville High School as a junior and his host family is David and Becky Hermann.

"I want to experience another culture, and I needed to study English," said Im who wanted to explain his reasons for joining this program and experiencing an entirely different way of life.

In addition to the longer school day, Im shared other differences he's encountered since coming to this country. Students in South Korea wear uniforms to school each day and they attend year-round school with the first semester beginning in March.

South Korean students graduate at the age of 19 and their parents place a high value on receiving an education according to Im. Most of the work is done during the school day, but sometimes homework will be assigned -- work that requires a student to get up early or stay up later to complete.

Sometimes I have homework," said Im. "People in South Korea think studying is the most important thing. Parents in South Korea say to their son or daughter 'just study'."

In addition to attending school, South Korean students may also attend an outside academy to gain additional skills in a variety of subjects. Sessions at these academies are primarily held to assist students with preparing for their two semester exams.

"After school, we go to a place to study that is called an academy," said Im. "We pay our own money to study math, English, and the Korean language. Most of the students do this."

Once he graduates, Im will be required to serve for two years in a branch of the South Korean military. This compulsory service for males in the country is necessary because of the continuing tensions with North Korea. Future plans also include attendance at a university and eventually a job.

"Life in high school is very difficult and tiring," said Im, "but if you're successful you go to a good university, which is easier, and you get a good job."

Im has been enjoying his experience in Cassville although he sometimes runs into confusion on the part of others who think he's from China or Japan. He's very proud of his South Korean heritage and he wants others to address him by his given name of Chang Gyu, (pronounced Chang Q).

Soccer is the most important sport in South Korea, according to Im, and he was pleased to have the opportunity to participate on the Cassville soccer team. Most of the friends he's made to this point also were part of that program.

One of the most difficult adjustments for Im has been taking classes at the school such as chemistry that rely heavily on measurements. The metric system is used in South Korea, and he struggled at first, but teachers and other student have helped him through the conversion process.

The Hermanns have been involved in hosting and placing foreign exchange students for over eight years. This is the first year that they've been involved with Face the World, a non-profit foreign exchange student program that has been in operation since 1980. Face the World operates under the auspices of the United States State Department.

In addition to hosting Im, David Hermann also serves as the community representative for Face the World in the 120-mile radius from Cassville that encompasses Joplin, Branson, Springfield, and areas of Kansas, Oklahoma and Arkansas. In this capacity he helps match students with host families and monitors their progress during the length of a student's stay.

Hermann encourages others to consider being a host family and suggests that a good place to start is by researching the program at www.facetheworld.org.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: