Korean teenagers welcome us with open arms

By Ryan Nishikawa

For those of you who are unaware, the city of Davis has a sister city in South Korea called Sangju. In many ways, it is a city very similar to our own. It is about the same size as Davis, and the people there have a strong commitment to agriculture, education and clean transportation.
In order to maintain our relationship with Sangju, Davis High School students travel each summer to Korea to stay with a Korean student. They get to experience a diversity of Korean culture. Later in the year, the Korean students come to DHS to become familiar with American culture.

That’s where the Davis High School Culture Exchange Club comes in. We meet every Tuesday during the school year and discuss the exchange. Most of the time, we discuss the important matter of funding for the big trip.
I am a member of the club and just last month traveled with a group of Davis students to attend school and experience a vastly different culture. It was truly a transformative experience.
Here are some reasons why I would recommend this experience to anyone with even the slightest interest in an international culture:
* Koreans are extremely polite. They are kind and generous to foreigners in their country. Many students in the group that I accompanied demonstrated incredible courtesy. They offered to carry our bags and to buy us ice cream and drinks. They went out of their way to help us or make us feel welcome.

One of our students, Claire Williams, an incoming eighth-grader at Holmes Junior High, was surprised about “how much they care(d) about (us).” We were treated like members of their family.
* It’s always interesting to try to learn something from the unknown. An example of this is school. While the Sangju people do put a lot of emphasis on education, their educational system is almost nothing like ours. Their high school is not coed, meaning that there’s a boys high school and a girls high school. Also, their school days are very long. Students have to stay very late into the night to study and have to arrive at school very early.
* There are so many options for entertainment in Sangju. Whether it’s table tennis or billiards or bowling or the PC rooms (random rooms spread throughout the city filled with 20 to 30 personal computers with insanely fast Internet) or noriban (Korean karaoke bars), we almost always had something fun to do.

Besides, there is a wide, hilly resort fairly close to the city. At the resort, we ate Korean barbecue, we partook in the Korean sauna experience and we had several hours of hard partying. According to all of the students interviewed, this was the highlight of the trip: the party and the sauna. Take note: the sauna experience can be a bit uncomfortable for some but any discomfort is completely worth it, in the end.
With all of these interesting components included in the exchange between Sangju and Davis, it’s no surprise that Kevin Williams, a history teacher at Davis High, as well as the club adviser and head of fundraising, told me that “we’ve got our work cut out for us.” I agree wholeheartedly. In the fall, the students we stayed with are coming to Davis to participate in a similar exchange, and it is up to us to make their visit just as rich, educational and meaningful as ours.

— Ryan Nishikawa will be a junior this fall at Davis High School.

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