by Deborah Bajakian,
Student Assistance Counselor/Social Worker at Northern Valley Regional HS in Demarest, NJ
Flying to a foreign country, not speaking the language, not knowing who I was traveling with certainly added to feelings of anxiety, and being 'out of my comfort zone, connected me to the students and families who first arrive in this country.
As a counselor, I've gained a greater perspective and increased sensitivity of what Korean students as well as other foreign students must feel when they first arrive in the US. I was total dependent on the Korean students and adults to interpret for me. I'm reminded everyday of this vulnerability when I see the new students in my school and I think about how amazing they are to overcome all the challenges that they face. I've also gained a greater appreciation for the academic drive these students have and feel this will help me communicate with them better about the need for balance.
One of my fondest memories with my home stay family was our last night together after returning from dinner. We sat around on the floor and played the traditional game of Yut Nori, the four sticks game. Even though language separated us, the experience of family and fun connected us. From the school visits, orphanages, temples, cultural museums, the 'world famous fish market, karaoke on the bus, Kimchee, pajeon, beebimbop and so much more, I have been enriched beyond what I imagined. This was truly an unforgettable experience.