(Yonhap Feature) Expat students find school life similar to back home
By Mark Ratto
Seoul, Feb. 10 (Yonhap) -- From English teachers to diplomats and global corporate businessmen, foreign adults have long become a part of Korea. However, a smaller and less talked about group of expats resides with them for largely different reasons out of their control.
Expat high school students from the U.S. have found a home at international schools sprawled throughout the country. While rooms, books and teachers look and feel very similar to those back home, they nonetheless find themselves in a new cultural setting.
There are approximately 25 English-based international schools in Korea and 12 of those are located in Seoul. Many schools are either founded by the local government or Christian-based organizations with the goal of ascertaining a foreign school feel, on a day-to-day basis.
"The curriculum is the same, but it is different," said Annie Shim, a senior at Global Christian Foreign School located in Hannam-dong, downtown Seoul. "I think the system is similar on the outside but on the inside, culturally, it is different."
Shim was born in West Virginia. She and her family moved to California at a young age before moving to Seoul when she was in the seventh grade. According to Shim, her family came to Korea about six years ago for a visit during the summer, but due to some personal family issues, she has been here ever since. This is her sixth year at Global Christian Foreign School.
She remembers her initial transition as being a challenge.
"This is an international school so I didn't feel much of a huge difference," Shim recalled. "But the people were very different, especially how the girls acted toward new students."
She said back in the U.S. she experienced more openness compared to here when she changed schools. "It's just that, here they are a little less outgoing," Shim said. "It didn't really hurt me or anything, it was just a little weird and different."
Expat students like Shim agree they share pretty much the same curriculum they would have in the U.S. Shim and her classmates at the moment are discussing America's political scope and the current race to determine the Republican candidate for the presidential election happening later this year.
"Mitt Romney, but Newt Gingrich is coming up," Shim said when asked who she thought will win. "We don't really like Newt in our class, but he is getting a lot of support."
Albert Joe, an expat student, talks about school lunch and friends back home as he describes his life in Korea.
Albert Joe, a senior at Asia Pacific International School in northeastern Seoul, has been in Korea for just over a year and a half. His transition here from Cupertino, California, was fairly smooth, he says.
"I think all of the teachers and the curriculum are pretty much the same, but the teacher-to-student ratio is better here," Joe said. "That is definitely one thing I like, but I do miss how easy it was to pick and change your classes in California. Here, there are simply less class options because the school is smaller."
Joe and his mother decided to move to Seoul a few years ago to be closer to his father whose work is based in Seoul.
For people like Shim and Joe, the perks are in small daily routines. Unlike most of her Korean classmates, she does not attend any private after-school academies, or hagwons as they are called in Korea. She has also been known to bring healthy bag lunches as opposed to eating the food from the school cafeteria. She doesn't feel out of place in mentioning that her favorite class and subject is "Current Events," a generally unpopular pick in the U.S.
Joe's lunch in Cupertino was usually a quick run to a nearby 7-Eleven, which he misses. "The lunch, taste-wise, is not that great here," he said. "But I am working out a little here and there right now and they give plenty of chicken, so I am not complaining."
One of Joe's classmates at Asia Pacific International School, Joanne Kim, also veers from overt complaining when comparing her experiences in Seoul to that of the U.S.
"Academically, I like it much better here," said Kim, who lived in New Jersey and California prior to coming to Seoul with her family five years ago for her father's job. "Socially though, I have always wanted to go back to America, simply because there are more people, especially the ratio of girls to boys."
There is always a longing, even though the transition across the ocean may have been easy.
"I really miss (my friends), actually," Joe said.