Winter break is usually just that: a break from school for students across the world. But halfway across the world, the beginning of winter vacation for 10 students in South Korea was spent traveling to the United States, and the rest of the school break was spent, well, in a school.
For nearly a month the students, ages 7-10, attended Resurrection-St. Paul School in Ellicott City, bringing together opposite corners of the world in the classroom.
They're all students of Kwang Lee and Chun Hee Shin, husband and wife educators from Daejeon, South Korea. The trip was the first manifestation of a newly-formed partnership between Resurrection-St. Paul and Shin's Success For All school — part day care, part after-school program — modeled in part after the Success For All Foundation at Johns Hopkins University. There, Shin prepares her students for international educational trips to sister schools like Resurrection St. Paul.
Though this is the first year for the program, the partnership actually began 10 years ago, when Lee and Shin's children were students at Resurrection-St. Paul (they're now students at Dwight International School in Canada). Their experience was so impactful, Lee said, he and Shin reached out to the school to establish the partnership.
"Last year on a family trip, they said Resurrection was a favorite childhood memory," Shin said through a translator.
Resurrection-St. Paul Principal Karen Murphy said her teachers remembered Lee and Shin's children, and remembered the "respect and culture" they brought to the school. The teachers were excited about the partnership, and when the students showed up after the holidays for the first day of school Jan. 2, Murphy said staff marveled at how well-prepared — and how brave — the students were.
"To see these little kids leave their home and culture for a month and come to a new place, and do such a great job (in class) is wonderful," Murphy said.
One of the only academic hiccups, Murphy said, was the Spanish classes.
"These kids know three languages — Korean, English and Chinese," she said. "And they said, 'Spanish? We have to learn Spanish?' I think that's what they're going home and studying the most at night."
The three-and-a-half week long session was a learning experience for everyone involved, Shin said, especially since a lot of little cultural difference add up.
"For example, in Korea, it's a sign of respect to not look at teacher in the eyes when he or she speaks to you," she said. "Little social cues like that add up to a big difference."
Students at Resurrection-St. Paul also do more collaborative group work than the South Korean students are used to, Murphy said.
"I think they're used to a lot of direct instruction, and they go deeper with subjects, while we go broader across the curriculum," Murphy said.
Students played the parts of tourists, too. While the students were in the U.S., they took weekend field trips to Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Annapolis, Boston — where they toured several colleges — and New York City, where they saw the Broadway musical "The Lion King."
The students were preparing to leave last week — their trip lasted from Dec. 27 to Jan. 25 — and the teachers expected the departure to be hard on all the students, American and Korean alike.
"They've integrated, they've made friends," Murphy said. "We're talking about writing letters, Skyping, keeping in touch."
One of the South Korean students, You-Min Park, 9, said her favorite part of being at Resurrection St. Paul was the friends she had made, and the teachers who helped her learn new vocabulary words.
"The teachers are so kind and nice to us," she said. "RSPS School is fun."
Another visiting student, Ryu-Nah Kang, 10, agreed with You-Min.
"I've made really good friendships, and the teachers are so kind," she said.
Now that the schools are partnered, Murphy expects Shin and Lee to bring students back in the future. Such programs benefit all involved, said Resurrection-St. Paul third-grade teacher Monica Custer, because they make the world smaller.
"We want to teach them and prepare them for the global society," Custer said. "It's been eye-opening for my students, to meet someone from another country who's the same age, and find out they like the same things they do. They're more alike than they realized."