A delegation of eight elementary students from Gunsan, Korea visited Tacoma for three weeks last month (Jan. 11-31) and had an experience that none will soon forget.
Tacoma residents, many of them local educators, provided homestays for the students and ensured that they and their teachers experienced the very best that Puget Sound has to offer. From Korea, teachers Kim, Min Su, Park, Ji Hyun and Korean politician Park, Chan Soo accompanied the delegation during their stay in Tacoma.
“I am very grateful for the support of the host families,” said Sister Cities Tacoma-Gunsan Committee Chair Ok Sun Wilson. “They took care of the students as if they were their own children.”
The visit began with a welcoming dinner in honor of the students at a popular restaurant in South Tacoma. Then it was time to go to school, with Jennie Reed Elementary hosting the young learners as part of that school’s existing exchange program. This is the fourth year that Jennie Reed has hosted students from the same Gunsan school.
Ok Sun said the students had a wonderful time thanks to the host families and children at Jennie Reed. “They were incredible to the students,” she said. “It was very meaningful to them,” and even though the Korean visitors were limited in speaking English, they learned very quickly and found that language was not a barrier to expressing themselves and making new friends.
This is Ok Sun’s fifth year to helping to organize visiting Korean students, something she also did at Fern Hill Elementary School where she was a teacher for 36 years. She said that all of the students were from the same school in Gunsan, which had just 12 students when the Jennie Reed exchange program started. Now, the school has a student body of 45, and growing.
“This was the best year yet – absolutely wonderful,” said Jennie Reed principal Abby Sloan. “We’re into our second sibling in some families.”
Sloan traveled to the Gunsan school last year and made relationships with the board of education, mayor and other key people. To learn that the school has grown from 12 to 45 students, thanks to the exchange program, amazes her.
“I had no idea the impact we were making in Korea,” she said. “(The exchange program) is part of our makeup, our DNA and part of bigger system. We are global citizens at Jennie Reed and it’s a beautiful thing that we love being part of.”
Ok Sun said that the Korean school population is gaining increasingly because the exchange program motivates parents to have their children attend this school. “This is another reason that I try to help them out.”
While in Tacoma, the students enjoyed many outings to local attractions like ice skating at Sprinker Recreation Center, a sightseeing trip to Mount Rainier and an educational field trip to learn about local art and culture at the LeMay car museum and Museum of Glass. The students also toured the Microsoft Visitor Center in Redmond and took a day-long trip to explore Canada’s parks and aquariums.
On Jan. 30, the students attended a farewell assembly at Jennie Reed, and it was certainly a bittersweet moment with lots of heartfelt good-byes, tears and hugs. Jennie Reed students had bonded with their visiting friends in such a short time and no one was ready for the Korean visitors to leave for home.
The visit was made possible with the support of Ok Sun Wilson, Chun Ho Shin (Federal Way businessman), Abby Sloan (Principal, Jennie Reed Elementary), and Tacoma Public School District.