By Joyce DeWallace, Contributing Writer
Northborough – The halls at St. Bernadette Catholic School in Northborough are alive with the sounds of a new language. Six exchange students from Korea are spending from three to six weeks learning what it's like to attend school in the United States. Each visiting student has been assigned to an American “buddy,” who became an instant friend and resource. Whether it's something simple like navigating the building or more complicated like figuring out what's going on in Spanish class, the buddies have helped the Korean students enjoy their new experiences.
Most of the visiting students have studied English for at least five years and have excellent math computation skills. It's trying to understand the local idioms and expressions that present the most challenges. They stay for extra tutoring three days a week until 5 p.m. and on Saturdays go on group tours.
The learning is mutual. One American student said he's learned to write his name in Korean characters. Another mentioned that he's found out all sorts of new things about Korea. A third simply said, “It's fun!” Other buddies have been learning to speak a little Korean.
Principal Deborah O”Neil appreciates the program.
“It is wonderful to watch our students demonstrate character, compassion and values toward their new peers,” she said. “This experience has broadened their horizons. The buddy system has been good for both our students and our visitors.”
The school purchased a video, “The Hidden Korea,” that was shown to everyone in grades five through eight to help them prepare for their new classmates.
This is the first year that St. Bernadette School has participated in the program through Boston Global Education. In order to permit the school to accept foreign students, the staff had to work through the I-20 application process, which allows private schools to take part in programs with international students. Melissa Kane, the school's director of advancement, handled much of the paperwork.
“Being able to accept students from other countries makes the school more attractive to other cultures and gives our students a more global sense,” she said.
Bernadette Aube, the director of admissions, handled the logistics of adding six students mid-year. The staff had to be informed about the program, and new procedures were instituted to make sure the Korean children have a good experience. The students had to be fitted with uniforms, which are required of all students.
Every year the Catholic schools have a different motto; this year it is “Faith, Academics, Service.”
“This program has helped students to develop these ideals with being accepting and welcoming,” O”Neil said.
Students, both American and Korean, and faculty reported that they are enjoying this new learning experience.