Korean exchange students share experience

Justin Whaling

On June 6, seven students and two teachers flew from San Francisco to Cheonan, South Korea. Seniors Hayley Davis, Marlaina Allen, Blake Moore, Upasana Prabhu, junior Justin Whaling, and sophomore Seetha Natesan, along with teachers Allyson White and Stephanie Kimbrough (who both lived in Asia previously), went to Korea on an exchange program with a high school called Bugil Academy, where they spent two weeks immersed in Korean culture. The Bugil students are going to live with the Westlake students for two weeks in January.


Featherduster: What was your favorite part about the trip?

Seetha: I liked our trip to Gyeongju [a small town just south east of Cheonan]. It was very pretty, and the food was really good.

Blake: My favorite part was seeing the new culture and being able to experience a new world.

Maya: I liked meeting new people I otherwise would have never met.

Marlaina: I liked the overall experience, like the culture and the food, and I liked taking pictures of the students.

Hayley: The Bugil students — they are just the best people I’ve ever met, and they inspired me to be a better person.

Upasana: I liked observing the classrooms and contrasting the way classes are taught in Korea and how classes are taught in Westlake.

Kimbrough: I got to go back to Seoul and see my old friends, my old teachers, and see my old school. It was cool seeing the students be so interested in the culture and wanting to try new things.

White: The ATV’s in Gyeongju, because at that point, we’d been there for a week and I think everybody was getting a little homesick. The ATV’s really turned everyone around.


FD: What are some things you’re looking forward to doing when the Bugil students come to Westlake in January?

Seetha: Probably going to food trailers and mainly eating food because that’s what my family’s about. They might have to be dragged to a few soccer games.

Blake: I’m going to take them to the Trail of Lights.

Maya: I’m going to teach them how to sleep, because they don’t sleep enough in Korea.

Marlaina: [Bugil classmates returning from their previous visits to Westlake shared their favorite experiences].  I heard they’re big fans of P.Terry’s and Chick-fil-A, and I’m going to take them to South Congress.

Hayley­: I want to take them to the Asian food places and see how they compare the food.

Upasana: I want to play tennis with them and take them shopping. They might want some American clothes.


FD: Why did you go on the trip?

Seetha: I really like to travel and I saw this as a new experience for traveling. Also, my brother went on the trip before me and he loved it.

Blake: I saw the opportunity on posters around the school, and I wanted to see how life in Korea is.

Maya: I went on the trip because I knew a student who did the trip last year, and I saw how much fun she had. I think I gained a lot more global awareness. High school students are the same all over the world.

Marlaina­: I started to love their culture the previous summer. I started listening to K-pop and then learned to read the language and watch their TV shows.

Hayley­: Starting about a year ago, I wanted to be an English teacher in Korea.

Upasana: I wanted to be exposed to the Korean culture and see how their schooling compared to ours.

White: This was the first time I’d done anything of this nature, chaperoning students, especially out of the country. Mr. Morgan had mentioned to Dr. Carter that I had lived in Singapore and had traveled in Asia, and I brought it up to Dr. Carter that Mrs. Kimbrough had lived in Korea.


FD: Did you have any ideas going into the trip of what Korea would be like?

Seetha: I knew their English was really good, and they worked very hard since I had four Bugil students stay at my house when my brother went on the trip about six years ago.

Blake: I had been indoctrinated my whole life to think that Korea was mysterious, but as soon as I got there, I learned that everyone was really friendly.

Maya: I was confident that people would be taken aback by the fact that I am Japanese, but that was proven wrong.

Marlaina: I watched a YouTube vlog called “Eat Your Kimchi” before the trip, my experience was very different from what I saw in their videos. The school courses were a lot more vigorous than I thought, and the students are very dedicated to their work.

Hayley: I thought that Korea was more modernized than America. They do things that America hasn’t even come close to doing. For example, at many restaurants, they had a call button to tell the waiter you’re ready to order or pay or need assistance.

Upasana: When I came into the trip, I looked at it in the way that I wouldn’t be able to connect with Bugil students because I thought they were so different from me. When I got there, I learned they were really nice and we could connect on things. There was a student named Ji Hun who was really interested in Broadway and singing, and it was really fun to sing with him and connect in that way.


FD: What are some tips you’d like to give to Westlake students doing the trip next year?

Seetha: Don’t sleep for 15 hours when you get there. I missed out on the first dinner and didn’t get to meet any of the Bugil teachers. But it was a nice sleep.

Blake: Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. The students at Bugil tend to be shy and more reserved, so it’s kind of up to you to be more forward and get them to talk to you. Once you do that, you’ll become great friends.

Maya: Be open to the culture shock you’ll experience, especially in terms of the food, and try not to be as picky as you usually would be.

Marlaina: Bring more money than they tell you to. I ran out of money the last day and I couldn’t get any gifts for my family. Also, try and keep in contact with the Bugil students. They like seeing your messages after a long day.

Hayley: Be open minded. If you go over there expecting the same stuff in America, you’re going to be surprised. They’re so much more respectful to one another.

Upasana:  Make sure you form connections with the Bugil students. They’re more like us than you’d think.

Kimbrough: The courses you’re taking there are intense, and you will be in class most of the day. It’s not just a vacation in Korea, it’s a true exchange program.

White: Go into it knowing that we have to be flexible, we don’t get to be picky. Be open about the students going on the trip with you, the kids you go with, you’re going to be with them a lot.


FD:What’s was the best food you tried while in Korea?

Seetha: Korean pizza. It had potatoes on it, which should not taste good but it was. The school food was really good, too. The Westlake students made me go up and get a whole bowl of these fish sticks because we loved them so much and everyone was staring at me.

Blake: The best thing I had there was a drink called Milkis. It’s basically carbonated milk. As soon as you drink it, you become instantly addicted.

Maya: I liked bubble tea. It’s a milk tea with tapioca balls on the bottom. It’s really interesting, because you’re drinking and chewing at the same time.

Marlaina: I can’t choose a number one best food, because it was all really good.

Hayley: There was a boiling chicken soup with a whole chicken in it, stuffed with rice. That was so good.

Upasana: In terms of junk food, it would have to be these honey chips called Honey Tong Tong’s.

Kimbrough: The pho that we had on the last day was the best I had in my life. It changed my life.

White: There was a little restaurant we called “Kim Bobs” but I don’t think that’s the name. They had really good bulgogi beef and kimchi fried rice.


FDDid the trip bring you guys closer together as friends?

Seetha I know Upasana, she’s a family friend. I didn’t know anyone else; the trip helped all of us get to know each other.

Blake I had met a couple of them a few times before and maybe had a few quick conversations, but I was not familiar with anyone by any means. After going on the trip and learning more about them, we all became a lot closer.

Maya I knew Justin, and Marlaina, and Hayley but I had not ever talked to Blake, Seetha or Upasana. The trip really brought us together, and I’m glad I have these new friends that are so close.

Marlaina All of our paths never really crossed until we went on the trip together, and we all bonded a lot. It’s a group that you wouldn’t put together, but we all work so well.

Hayley Marlaina and I were best friends, and I vaguely knew Blake and Upasana, but I didn’t know the rest of them. But through the yelling (mostly on my part), I think we all got so much closer together. Even though we haven’t seen each other in months, you put us in a room together and we’re a having a blast. It just proves how much it brought us closer together.

Upasana I knew Seetha through a Hindu organization we’re been going to since we were 5. After the trip we all got a lot closer, we all made jokes and all became really comfortable around each other.