Koreans Townsend stop an English-booster
Arizona Daily Star
Jan. 8, 200
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By Rhonda Bodfield

Tucson, Arizona | Published: http://www.azstarnet.com/allheadlines/274976.php

Fourteen-year-old Da Som Lee hasn't adjusted to American food yet.

Jae Hwang Lee, also 14, can't get over the austere brown mountains surrounding Tucson those on his home island of Ulleungdo in South Korea are so green they've been described as a lush, floating forest.

English teacher Chang Hun Lee, 38, was surprised to see that students here travel to different classes in middle school, because back home, it's the teachers who rotate.

And so it is that the 17 middle school students from a small isolated island in South Korea, spending the next two weeks at Townsend Middle School to improve their English, also are learning far more.

Townsend Principal Barbara Kohl said she was honored that her school was chosen to host the students, who were selected for the program based on high test scores in English. Although the trip is sponsored by the South Korean government, the local Korean community also is supporting them financially, including providing host families.

A sign, welcoming students in Korean, hangs on the front door at Townsend, 2120 N. Beverly Blvd. And to make sure each student has individual support, they've all been assigned peer ambassadors who can help them find their classes and serve as lunch buddies.

"Our kids are now so connected to each other they're blogging, texting, e-mailing, speaking on computers with iCameras but nothing can really replicate the experience of meeting someone you don't know who comes from someplace else, and communicating with them," Kohl said.

Ambassadors had to collect parent and teacher recommendations and write personal essays explaining their interests.

Seventh-grader Monica Pita, for example, said she'd help them make friends and work with them on school assignments. She promised to make up any work she missed. "I will come early and stay as late as necessary," she pledged.

Monica said she volunteered to be an ambassador because she wanted to find out more about the lives of people in other cultures.

And only one school day into the two-week stint, Townsend students had learned more than the four Korean phrases they carried on pocket cards to try out on their new friends.

Brittany Holm, a 13-year-old eighth-grader, was intrigued to find that South Korean students ate a lot of squid.

Zachary Brooner, also 13, said he found out the boys all love soccer.

Turns out, both sides were nervous.

Holm said she was a little anxious because "I was worried I would say something wrong. I didn't want to offend someone on accident," she said. Instead, she said, "We got along pretty well."

Meanwhile, her partner, Da Som, said she was afraid her English skills weren't good enough to help her communicate. "For Korean students, speaking and hearing English is very hard, but writing and reading is good. I wanted to upgrade, no, improve my understanding," she said.

She found she knows more English than she thought.

The students, who had a chance to visit Disneyland and Universal Studios while Townsend was on winter break, spent the first few days easing into academics by taking long blocks of English as a Second Language classes. The students are doing so well that they are expected to spend two hours on language and then attend classes with their buddies.

They'll also get another chance to be tourists, with scheduled trips to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and Old Tucson Studios.

More about Ulleungdo

Ulleungdo is an island group in the Sea of Japan, about 75 miles from the South Korean mainland, and it is accessible by a boat trip of several hours.

There are 43 islands in the group, three of them inhabited.

There were 10,361 residents as of July 2006.

It boasts 62 kinds of animals and 750 species of plants.

The area's special products include squid, sweet pumpkin jelly, aromatic tree products and wild edible greens.

It boasts that three things are nonexistent there thieves, pollution and snakes and five are plentiful trees, wind, beautiful women, water and stone.

Source: The Traveler's Guidebook, published by the county of Ulleung

● Contact reporter Rhonda Bodfield at 806-7754 or at rbodfield@azstarnet.