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Sangwoo Kim, of Korea, and Eve Nummela, of Finland, are spending their school year at St. Joseph-Ogden High School.
Kim is living with the Derenne family while Nummela is living with the Calvos in St. Joseph.
Kim and Nummela are in St. Joseph because of Ayusa, a non-profit cultural exchange organization and study abroad organization for high school students.
Kim said his mother supported the idea of him traveling abroad and he wanted to travel and meet new people.
Nummela said she wanted to learn about a new culture.
Ayusa was a way for them to do that.
Before school started in August, Kim and Nummela traveled to St. Joseph after spending some brief time at a camp in California to learn more about the culture in the United States.
Kim actually missed his connection flight to Champaign.
Mary Derenne said she was at Willard Airport when her phone rang and Kim told her he had missed his flight.
After some phone calls to the airline and Kim, they found a solution.
Kim arrived in Champaign, by bus, at 1:18 in the morning.
"I was very scared but after I talked to Mary, it was better," Kim said.
Nummela's travel was easier. She didn't miss her flight, but she wasn't any less nervous than Kim.
"It's hard to leave your friends and family behind," she said. "But I was excited for the experience and what was ahead of me."
Differences at school
Kim's schooling at SJO is very different from his school in Korea.
For one thing, there is less of it.
"After school in Korea we go to another school," he said.
Kim, a sophomore, attends school from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. and then attends a college preparatory class from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.
This leaves him little time for extracurricular activities in Korea.
"He couldn't believe school was done at 3 p.m.," Derenne said.
While Kim said the homework is challenging at SJO, especially his U.S. history classes, he does like having free time.
This fall he used his free time to participate in athletics, specifically the SJO soccer team.
"Our team was very good," he said.
Derenne said Kim was excited to participate on the team because in Korea you have to be "really good" to be on a team, while in the U.S. anyone who wants to participate can.
"The team was always willing to help him out," she said. "The friendship was good."
Nummela's school day in Finland also started around 8 a.m. Depending on the day, she was done with school by 2 p.m. or 4 p.m.
The main difference is that in Finland, teachers do not give quizzes throughout the course. There is just one test at the end of class.
Classes also last seven weeks and students have a different schedule every day.
While at SJO Nummela has taken part in the SJO fall drama production.
"Everyone has been so friendly," she said.
Differences at home
Kim and Nummela both say they love "everything" about America.
In Korea, Kim lives in a large city in a high rise apartment.
Nummela lives in a town much like St. Joseph.
Both are adapting well to their lives with their host families. Deb Calvo said some challenges come with differing expectations in America, including chores and homework.
"It is a little challenging," said Deb Calvo. "The families go through orientation and they explain the process and how the cultural differences are."
While Nummela can speak English with only a slight accent, Kim says the language has been harder for him to master.
"In our language so many words have so many different meanings," Derenne said.
Derenne said the teachers at SJO have been understanding and have worked with Kim to make sure he understands the subject matter.
"The teachers are very good," Kim said.
Both students are getting good grades and are fitting in with their peers.
So much so, that students will still ask Nummela if she is an exchange student.
"Two people today asked if I had an accent," she said with a smile.
Why get involved
Calvo said her family had an exchange student from Italy a few years ago. The experience was so good they were afraid to try again.
"How could it be so perfect," she said. "Would it be as good?"
She said the family moved and they had more room so they decided to host another student.
"There is an adjustment but not in a bad way," she said. "There is someone else in the bathroom in the morning— little things like that."
Derenne said she saw that Calvo was going to host an exchange student and thought it would be fun to host a student as well.
The requirements for hosting a student are: there must be a bed for the student, they can share a room only with a sibling of the same gender and within five years of the same age, the
family must pass a background check and provide references. The family must attend an orientation and must provide meals for the student.
The students select an area of the country they would like to live in.
Then the host parents look at lists to see if they think they could match with a child.
"It feels like adopting a child," Derenne said.
Kim was matched up with the Derennes because he aspires to be a veterinarian and they own a dog sitting business.
In the future
Kim said he is looking forward to "Black Friday."
Both students are looking forward to Prom.
They both attended Homecoming and enjoyed the experience.
"It was fun, so much fun," Nummela said. "Being with your friends and having a great time."
"It was fun," Kim said. "We don't have it at home."
Derenne said SJO students helped them find clothes for Kim to wear to Homecoming.
"They told us where to get the right clothes," she said.
Both students would like to see more of the United States.
Kim wants to visit Alaska and New York while Nummela wants to visit the Grand Canyon and St. Louis.
Patti Good, regional director for Ayusa, said travel ambitions are not uncommon with exchange students.
"When kids sign up they have big dreams but It's not the place, it's the people and the relationships they make," she said. "They become part of the community and family in the end."
Visit www.ayusa.org for more information.