Bridges to Korea through youth exchange

Eighty teen-age ambassadors from South Korea will follow in the footsteps of their President Roh, who recently visited the U.S. and met with President Bush. Like him, they will cross the ocean for their first visit to the U.S. this August. Though South Korea and its neighbor to the north are much in the news today, neither of these faraway countries is well understood. Rockford resident Arlene D. Dehmer believes it is important for Americans to understand these countries and suggests a meaningful and very personal way for Illinois families to do so. As a coordinator for PAX (Program of Academic Exchange), Dehmer believes that there is no better way to build cross-cultural understanding and friendship than by living and studying in another culture, and Dehmer hopes that one or two families in this area will welcome a new “son” or “daughter” from South Korea to live with them while the student attends school next year.

The students are sponsored by PAX, a non-profit educational foundation. The foundation’s mission is to encourage cross-cultural learning and exchange between countries. “Our PAX students are young ‘ambassadors,’” notes Dehmer. “They are their country’s future leaders, and they have the same ability to build bridges of understanding as do the presidents of our two countries,” Dehmer adds. Hosting a new “son” or “daughter” like Jong Hue or Ji Won from South Korea will provide a firsthand opportunity for the visitor’s host family, classmates and friends to learn about a country that plays a pivotal role in a complex region of the world.

Students from South Korea arrive in August to spend a school year in America. They are placed with volunteer host families able to provide them with a bed, a quiet place to study, and meals taken at home. PAX students have their own spending money, are fully insured, and are expected to participate as a member of the host family. “The hardest part of the experience usually is saying ‘goodbye’ at the end of the year,” notes Dehmer.

Families of any size and shape are invited to apply. Retirees and single parents, as well as those with teens of their own, make good host families. The prerequisites are a curiosity about other cultures, a fondness for teens, and an interest in making a difference in the world. Families interested in learning more about PAX and about hosting a student from South Korea, or any of the other 35 participating countries, should call Arlene D. Dehmer at (815) 399-8212 or Martina Murray in the PAX national office at 1-800-555-6211.

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