Abby Gerdes doesn’t usually carry an iPad everywhere she goes at school.
But the fourth-grader at Jennie Reed Elementary School in Tacoma has had a special assignment the past three weeks: Help five students visiting from South Korea communicate with their temporary classmates.
Kim Minseo, 10, is one of the students. On a recent afternoon, Abby used the iPad to explain the presence of visitors to Minseo.
“It’s not every day that a Korean student gets to come to our classroom. You are special,” Abby typed into Google Translate. The app translated Abby’s words to Korean, prompting Minseo to smile.
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Later, with the help of a translator, Minseo shared a few highlights of her first trip to the United States. She particularly liked the math program at Jennie Reed and a recent field trip to the Chihuly Garden and Glass exhibit in Seattle.
“The American education system is easier. The children have more freedom,” Minseo said.
Ok Sun Wilson, chairwoman of Tacoma’s Sister City Committee for Gunsan, South Korea, said American schools are not necessarily easier, but do place more emphasis on group discussion. Wilson, who helped arrange the students’ visit, is South Korean and a retired Tacoma Public Schools teacher.
Another difference noticed by the visitors: Students here don’t take off their shoes indoors. Park Solli, 10, liked that.
“I’ve really enjoyed being in American school,” Solli said. But, “I miss my mom.”
The South Korean students were accompanied by a teacher and principal from their school, Hongnongsu Elementary in Yeonggwang, South Korea. Two Jennie Reed teachers hosted the visiting students and faculty at their homes.
Some of the expenses were covered by Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power, an electric plant near the South Korean students’ hometown, which is a major fishing center in the southwest part of the country.
Friday was the group’s last day at Jennie Reed, and the school threw a farewell party. Students from both countries said they will continue to correspond and maybe visit one another.
Hong Seokgon, a third-grade teacher from Hongnongsu Elementary, said he hopes the visit fostered understanding among the U.S. students.
“I just want them to know about Korea,” Seokgon said. “I hope they don’t think Korea is dangerous.”
Wilson agrees. She started the exchange program three years ago at Fern Hill Elementary and moved it to Jennie Reed this year because of the school’s global outreach focus.
“It transcends political differences and religious differences,” Wilson said. “We need to know each other like our neighbors to achieve world peace.”
Michael Simpson: 253-597-8670