By Kasey Kim, IV Form Exchange Student from Korea International School (KIS)
Connection By Pride: JeJu Island to St. Mark’s Exchange
When I first told my parents that I was going to apply for the St. Mark’s exchange students program, they initially came up with concerns: “Will you be able to handle everything?” and “Won’t it be hard for you to follow up all the missing work after you come back?” This program is a month long trip, and my home-school, Korea International School Jeju (KIS), just started their second quarter. We do have to make up nine tests and two projects after we return back to Jeju, and our new friends here at St. Mark’s have been demonstrating similar reactions to my parents: “That is so unfair!” and “Do your teachers really want you to have cultural exchange here.” The extreme follow up work is the reason why most students at KIS give up on this opportunity – but I was never more confident or ardent of anything else before. I cannot identify myself only as a student with high GPAs and successful academics. Now, here I am in Southborough, meeting amazing new people and experiencing new things that I had been only watching on Nickelodeon and Disney channel shows.
It has been almost a month since we arrived here. As we took our steps into St. Mark’s, it was very overwhelming to all seven of us. KIS is only a five years old community, and the building that we study in is only a year old. The buildings, classrooms, dining hall, and every corner of the school here is so different from our school back in Korea. We could all feel old times from the squeaking wooden floors. Everything at St. Mark’s is different from what I have expected.
Besides the exteriors, I admire the school spirit of St. Markers. Maintaining traditions like Groton Week and playing sports regularly, St. Mark’s students show such love to their school. Playing sports every day also seems to affect the students’ energy, enthusiasm , and conditions. The students here are more confident, passionate, and devoted not only to their school work but also to relationships. They also simply just want to have fun! Assisting the Varsity Field Hockey team as their manager for a month, I noticed their passion and spirit to every meeting and game. Sports doesn’t seem to be the matter of mandatory participations and college applications at St. Mark’s, but it is how they are connected to one another as community. They never complain about the hard core trainings that happen daily, but they participate with all of their hearts, and I look up to their youthful energy, their passion towards the sport, and their enthusiasm.
As an exchange student that is supposed to bring something back to a new born school like KIS from an old tradition school like St. Mark’s, I am able to learn a lot from not only the school itself, but from the student community. The students here always seem to have pride behind their sweatshirts saying St. Mark’s. I recognize students enjoying school life everyday. Sharing stories and motivational speeches during Chapel time, when the whole student body and faculty gathers together, adds more energy to the community. During classes, because of the small sizes, every student gets a chance to speak or participate in discussions. Many of the classes are led by the students themselves. One of the best parts that I have noticed here at St. Mark’s is the student-leading base systems. Besides classes, the community is led by students: in general, all students are devoted into making St. Mark’s a better place. From their enthusiasm and devotion, and by feeling their days full of energy on campus with friends, I can envision a less-stressful environment in our home back on Jeju. I have also been able to earn a lot myself as a person, looking back to myself struggling all the time, full of stress without solutions. I do admire the St. Markers’ passion towards themselves. Their positivity creates confidence. I am taking that back with me from them.
I am also very lucky to have a new friend and a new family here at Southborough. I got an opportunity to live out of the dorms with my friend, Sophie Haugen. Sophie’s family treated me as another daughter and sister and provided me with more opportunities to experience the culture here in the States. Thanks to all their care and sharing, my experience at St. Mark’s has been more whole and complete. I am also accomplishing what I am calling “my American dreams” – a list of experiences to do in the States: carving a pumpkin during Halloween, going to Target, shopping until I drop at an American mall, having a full blown Shake Shack and Chipotle meals. Those were all possible thanks to Sophie and her family’s help and caring!
Despite the pressure and doubts towards myself, I made it through, and this is my last week here at St. Mark’s, as I write this piece. I have grown another step as a person. I am now able to challenge myself without fear or doubts. I look up to St. Mark’s maintenance of tradition and accepting positive changes for the sake of the students’ good. The entire community seemed – happy. More than anything, love and devotion towards St. Mark’s united the community into one, and that makes the community great. The decision I made to apply for this program has been one of the best decisions that I have ever made.