Jihoo Kim leaves positive impression on Carrollton

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By Kristin Beck

As the school year winds down, students are getting antsy about beginning their summer vacations. However, this time also marks the end for Jihoo Kim and his visit to the United States. A foreign exchange student, he will return to his home in Gwangju, South Korea on June 1 after spending the school year with Carroll County residents Dennis and Kathy Goff.

The United Methodist Church of Carrollton, located at 310 Highland Ave. where the Goffs and Kim attend services, will be holding a going away meal on Sunday May 16 at 12:30 p.m. Anyone wishing to say goodbye to Kim is welcome to attend.

Kim said his mom encouraged him to study abroad and helped him apply for the Program of Academic Exchange. As an only child, Kim said his mom wanted him to get all of the life experiences he could and to improve his English.

“I think she sent me here for the experience and for my future,” he said.

The application included information about Kim and his family, health, interests, school information and his passport and visa, and it took about a month to fill out.

Once accepted, Kim was initially scheduled to live with a family in Kansas City, Mo. This was his second trip to the United States. His first was on a group trip with other students when he was 12 years old.

While en route from South Korea, however, PAX learned that the family did not pass the background check. Because of this, he ended up with a family in Kentucky for about six weeks.

When things did not work out with the family, Kim’s PAX coordinator in Hanover, Ind., Theresa Robbins, was referred to Dennis and Kathy Goff. Robbins is one of the numerous coordinators across the country. They are responsible for overseeing the students in the program and helping solve any problems that may arise.

Robbins called the Goffs one Thursday in early to mid-October asking if they would be interested in housing a foreign exchange student. Dennis said he told her that they would have to think about it. Robbins called back the following Monday saying she had to pick Kim up from school and wanted to know if they wanted to meet him. The Goffs agreed, and she brought him over. After they had met, Robbins told the Goffs that Kim had a soccer game that night, and she wanted to know if they could take him. She also told them that she had all of his clothes in her car. The Goffs agreed to take him and to allow him to spend the night. The next day when Robbins called to check on Kim, the Goffs told her they would keep him for the duration.

“He was very cordial, kind and excited, and we were interested,” Dennis said.

The Goffs volunteered to allow Kim to stay with them and were not compensated for their generosity.

Because of coordination issues, Kim missed about the first month at Carroll County High School, where he is a sophomore. This is different from Korea in that there are only three levels rather than four: freshman, junior and senior. Therefore, when he returns to his Korean school in the fall, he will be a senior.

Another major difference in schooling is the length of the school day. Kim was pleasantly surprised that the typical American school day is from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. In Korea, children attend school from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday and every other Saturday, and they eat all three of their meals at school, he said. The school year also varies slightly, with students in school from September to July.

Initially, Kim was told he would not receive credit at his Korean school for the classes he took while he was in the United States. Fortunately, the school changed its mind, and he will now receive credit. Kim said the classes varied in that, for example, in Korea, he had a general math class rather than a class specifically for topics like geometry. Kim is involved in soccer and track at CCHS and was named one of the Princes of the sophomore class.

Kim said, at first, he was concerned about whether he would be accepted because he was from a different country and looked and sounded different from everyone else. However, he said he never had any problems.

“Carrolton was a great town. Everyone was nice to me,” he said.

Dennis said he and Kathy tried their best to give Kim as many “American experiences” as they could while he was staying with them. Coming from a city of about 100,000 people, Kim said he was not familiar with farming or agriculture. The Goffs, who live on a farm in Carroll County, taught him how to garden and use the rototiller and how to take care of the family’s three horses. In addition, because there are no RVs in Korea, Kim did not know what to make of the family’s “big van” at first. They went camping together and also took a trip to the Great Smoky Mountains in it.

While he was in the United States, Kim said his mom wanted him to visit his uncle, aunt and cousins that lived in State College, Pa. At first, Kim had mixed feelings about going because he had only met them once when he was little. He tried to find a flight over Spring Break, but could not find a connecting flight. So he and the Goffs drove the RV on the 9-hour, 500-mile trip. They spent three days there and took a tour of Penn State University’s campus, where Kim’s uncle is a professor.

“They were very kind and gracious to us there,” Dennis said.

Kim said that while 50 percent of Koreans are Christian, his family does not regularly practice at home. The Goffs took him to United Methodist Church in Carrollton where he was readily welcomed into their community. The Goffs also found him a bilingual Bible that has English and Korean on opposite page that he can take home with him. Kim said he would continue to attend church at home.

Kim also experienced his first real Christmas while he was in the United States. Koreans think Christmas is for little kids, so he had never gotten a gift from his mom and dad, he said. Included in his Christmas gifts were a football and an iPod Touch.

“I thought it was really great. The family was so nice to me,” Kim said.

While he has been away, Kim said he talks to his mom almost every other day. However, the Goffs have not spoken to either of his parents because his mom does not speak any English and his dad only limited English. But Dennis said Kim’s parents have sent them some beautiful gifts that are now displayed in their home.

Kim said his mom did not want him to become completely accustomed to American fast food while he was away, so she regularly sends him care packages of Korean food. However, he said he has not missed any of the food from his home country, mostly because a lot of the fast food is the same in both countries and because of his mom’s gifts.

“I really enjoyed all of Kathy’s cooking. Everything,” Kim said. He especially loves eating her country ribs and mashed potatoes, which he has learned to cook for himself. Kathy said he helps out regularly in the kitchen with the cooking and baking, activities he had not experienced in Korea.

“We eat lots of pork, but not beef so much,” Kim said. “… I like crab legs a lot, but in Korea, they are really expensive.”

While he did not miss the food while he was gone, Kim said he missed his family, especially during the holidays. He also worried about his grandma when she broke her hip, but she is doing well now. Kim said he has made many friends here and will keep in touch with all of them.

Kim said he only began studying English in the seventh grade, and it has greatly improved since his arrival. At first, he would confuse “yes” and “no” and say one when he meant the other. There are also no “W” or “L” in the Korean language. Kim said Dennis and Kathy would correct all of his mistakes, which helped him to learn.

Dennis said Kim has kept them busy, but the entire experience has been very positive.

“Our daughter has said he has helped keep us youthful. I guess that’s true,” Dennis said. “… We really tried to do all we could to make his experience as good as possible. A lifelong friend.”

Kathy agreed and said Kim has gotten along with both old and young alike because he is very personable.

“We were very fortunate to get a kind, young gentleman,” she said. “… Our family has fallen in love with him; our church has fallen in love with him. If Jihoo came back, we’d take him in a heartbeat.”