By David Sedeño
The Texas Catholic
RICHARDSON—On any given day, the ethnic diversity at St. Joseph’s Catholic School is on full display, with representation from various Spanish-speaking countries and from Asia and Africa.
In January, the school has taken an even more international makeup with the inclusion of seven visiting students from Pusan, South Korea.
“They are fitting right in, some better at different levels and some understand more,” said Jina Kim, St. Joseph’s assistant principal. “We are a diverse school, but we want our students to learn to accept other people who are different.”
The exchange idea began in the fall as St. Joseph school administrators were continuing work on a strategic plan that would highlight its mission statement, core values and strengths. Several grades already were preparing presentations on how Christmas was celebrated in other parts of the world: Italy, Mexico, Vietnam, and Austria.
At the same time Jess Carroll, married to American Judd Carroll and teaching English at a South Korean academy, contacted Kim, also of Korean descent. They discussed the possibility of bringing several students to the school as part of an educational and cultural enrichment program during their winter break. St. Joseph had been recommended by Jess Carroll’s sister-in-law, who is a parishioner.
Working feverishly, Carroll presented the idea to parents at the South Korean academy while Kim got the go-ahead from St. Joseph Principal Fran Thompson and began working on ensuring that all the visiting students’ documents, immunizations and other criteria were met, and presented the idea to faculty and students because the South Korean students would need school-wide support.
Despite early bouts of homesickness for a few, the experience has gotten off to a strong start.
It’s not the first time that Carroll has brought students to the United States, as she has taken groups to Colorado and to Tyler.
“We study English and we learn about American culture, but it is one thing learning about it in the classroom and totally different experiencing it first-hand,” Carroll said. “A lot of the parents are open to getting their children away for academic reasons; it is important for them to invest in their children’s education and it is very common to study abroad. The academic competition is fierce in Korea. This is a little break for them.”
The South Korean students were given St. Joseph apparel and a pencil bag and were introduced at a school assembly on Jan. 7, and assigned to various grades. In turn, they brought gifts for teachers and students and a willingness to learn, several Korean students said.
And as Thompson said, they hit the ground running. Three of the middle school students have signed up for band and will play saxophone, French horn and drums. On a recent morning, three of the students placed in the fifth-grade were trying to sing along with their American classmates, who were helping them find the right stanzas.
The students will be doing homework and taking tests, but will not receive credit for any classwork. They are staying with Carroll’s sister-in-law, separated into boys’ and girls’ sleeping quarters, with several air mattresses, and are learning to help each other when they are at St. Joseph and away from the school.
The students also will be visiting other sites in the Metroplex and perhaps even Austin, Carroll said.
A few of the students discussed what they want to experience in Texas, including barbecue and hamburgers, but also are perplexed that WiFI is a bit slower here than in their technology-rich country.
Kim said she hopes that the students will not only learn English, but will be able to instill dedication in their new American friends.
“I want our students to see how hard they work and how hard they study and don’t even speak English very well,” Kim said. “I want our students to see the academics and the discipline that these Korean students have and that our students can learn a lot from them.”
Kevin Rodriguez, a fifth-grader, has helped take Sung under his wing and hopes that their friendship will expand beyond borders when they depart on Feb. 1.
“They are always going to be my friends,” Rodriguez said. “I will remember them forever and I hope they have a memory of St. Joseph when they are in Korea.”
See the Jan. 18 print edition of The Texas Catholic for more stories celebrating Dallas Catholic School in anticipation of Catholic Schools Week 2019.