Coming to Southwest Louisiana from Seoul, South Korea, was a change for NaKyung Lee that she came to love.
Known as Jenna Lee to her host family and new friends, the Iowa High student spent six months not only studying but enjoying Louisiana culture.
Lee said that while in South Korea, much of her time was spent at school. Here she’s had a chance to have more fun and experience being part of a larger family.
She has been involved in a number of other experiences, including crawfishing, duck hunting, horse riding and homecoming. Those are things she said few students in South Korea get to experience.
Jenna is one of several students who have come to Southwest Louisiana to study.
Andrea Ocampo, a senior at Iowa, was placed here when she applied to study in the U.S.
Originally from Guadalajara, Mexico, Ocampo said she did not know anything about the Lake Area but soon found she was enjoying her new home. She said when she is older she would like to come back to America to live.
“At first I was nervous and I was afraid because I was like, ‘What if I don’t like it or something?’ ” she said. “But being here I can say it’s the best experience I have had in my life.”
The experience hasn’t just been for the students though. Host families in the area said they have benefitted from their newest family member as well.
Ocampo’s host mom, Sarah Standford, said this was the first time she and her husband have hosted an exchange student.
Standford said at first she was unsure of how it would work out. However, she said Andrea has become like a member of the family and that her three children enjoy having another “sister.”
Standford said this has also opened up the opportunity to meet with Ocampo’s family via Skype. They have already talked about meeting each other and possibly hosting Ocampo’s younger sister when she enters high school.
“We’ve gained not just a friendship with her but also with her family,” Standford said. “We were talking about how sad it’s going to be when she has to go home.”
Amy Chenevert, area supervisor for the International Student Exchange program that placed both girls, said some families are hesitant about hosting a student from another country.
She said that while there are policies and procedures that must be followed it is not an “FBI process” and is worth it in the end.
Interested families go through an interview session with Chenevert when she makes sure the house has necessities such as running water, electricity and an extra room. Families must also pass a background check. Both the host family and student receive information about each other before they meet.
“It is a process of leaving your family and coming here to live with people you don’t know,” Chenevert said.
For many students who make the trip overseas, Chenevert said they find a place that is like a second home. One student she placed has come back to visit five times since.
Another came back and stayed longer with her host family after she had returned home for a few weeks and began to miss them.
Principal Mike Oakley said the exchange students at Iowa have mixed in well with the rest of the students. He said there has also been an increase in the number of students coming to study abroad. Not only has it exposed his students to other cultures, but he said it has also given him a chance to learn something new.
“It’s important to know what things are like in their country; I even got a translator app on my phone to help me speak their language,” he said. “It gives our kids a chance to meet with and talk to children like them and see what it’s like in other countries.”