Dong Hyuk, from South Korea, is known by her friends and family in America as “Christine.” She arrived to Easton, PA as a 15-year-old Freshman. According to Sharon, her host mother, “She was part of our family the minute she walked through our door four years ago with two large suitcases she could barely carry.”
Christine remained positive as she established a new life in America at such a young age. Homesickness was never an issue for her. She shares,
“I started with my host family when I was 15, and now I’m 19. The technology helped so much to keep me in touch with my family back home. I FaceTime with my mom every night, and I can always call them when I need to. Every summer, I would go home to South Korea. I am an independent woman and too busy to be homesick. With tests, projects, presentations, assignments, quizzes… it’s a lot!”
Christine literally grew up on the PSE exchange program. She not only spent four years in the same school with PSE, but also with the same host family.
Christine explains, “[my host family is] so sweet and kind and they have always supported me. My host sister, Brooke, is one year younger than me, and we have grown up together.”
She has many great memories with her host family including trips to Boston, Harvard University, a Red Sox game, Madam Tussauds Wax Museum, a Taylor Swift concert, and a Wicked concert in New York City.
Sharon says that Christine is very thoughtful, kind, and considerate. “She always offers to lend a helping hand. She helped us get through some very tough times. My husband was diagnosed with ALS in the middle of her stay with us. She pitched in and helped with everything and had to witness some very sad and difficult moments.”
Christine even participated in a Road Race Benefit for ALS.
Kathleen, her Local Coordinator, has been a great supporter of Christine and looked forward to their monthly visits. “I loved our time together when I would come for school visits. Christine always requested to be the last student I met with so we could spend more time together talking about everything!”
Kelly, the International Director at the high school, shares, “Christine has an extraordinary combination of character qualities and personality traits that have been inspirational to teachers and peers alike. She is endlessly optimistic and cheerful and is always striving to serve her fellow classmates in positive ways.”
Christine was even inducted into the National Honor Society.
“I gained self-esteem”
Christine shares how during her Sophomore year, she joined the cross country team. “At first, I was a bad runner – but I improved a lot. I worked hard, improved my time, and my self-esteem grew. When I ran with my team, it made me very happy!” She says that making friends was the best part of participating in a school sport.
Christine engaged in other school activities such as Theatre, Student Council, Key Club, and Pier Listeners. “She challenged herself to participate in as many school activities as possible,” Kelly says.
“I became a better listener”
Kelly states, “Christine worked tirelessly to improve her English skills and to learn communication and advocacy skills. She was a leader in the international student population and was an inspiration to American students as well.”
As a Sophomore, the school chose Christine to be a “Pier Listener” which Kathleen describes as a “big honor.” Christine shares, “As a Pier Listener, I helped international and American students who struggled. They would talk about their concerns with me. For example, if someone had a difficult time making friends, I helped them, encouraged them, and gave them suggestions.”
Christine enjoyed sharing her own experiences in America and becoming a support for the students to lean on. “One of the biggest skills as a Pier Listener is, of course, to listen. So, we were in training for three days and learned how to listen and understand others better. It was so helpful.”
“I really like when people would ask me for feedback, and as I provided it to them, I could see them become more comfortable and at ease,” Christine explains.
“I was able to strengthen my faith”
Growing up in a Christian family in South Korea, Christine has always had a strong faith in God. As a 15-year-old applicant, she shared the following with PSE before coming to America:
“My parents named me Dong Hyuk…. The meaning of my name is that God always protects me by using strong shining and eyes. I grew up like my name. However, this does not mean I never had challenging moments in my life. This means I overcame all problems. I am a strong-minded person. I do not know how to give up. I am more persistent than anyone else.”
During her Senior year, Christine noticed her self-esteem decrease as she became fearful of the future. As the workload increased at school, things became more challenging for her. “I decided to go on the Kairos Retreat, and it became my most favorite experience in life!” Sharon eloquently explains, “Kairos adapted from the Greek to mean ‘God’s Time.’ It is a four-day Christian retreat program geared toward deepening one’s faith, identity, relationships, and connection to God’s role in our lives.”
Christine explains about the retreat, “It really made me think about my personal relationship with God and how to strengthen it.” Christine enjoyed meeting new people and having deep conversations about family issues and concerns. She was so inspired by sharing her experiences and opinions in small groups. This experience taught her how to better sympathize and empathize with others.
“I encourage everyone to go on a Kairos Retreat. It is a wonderful way to make new friends and grow your relationship with God and with each other,” Christine shares.
Sharon reflects on their exchange experience and describes how Christine has blossomed over the years:
“She has become very independent. Since we had a lot going on, she had to make reservations on her own and reach out to others when she needed help. She is very adaptable. She has had to learn a new culture and language, and she stepped up to the task flawlessly.” She continues, “Christine is very driven academically and career wise and puts forth 110% effort in everything she takes on.”
Christine celebrated her high school graduation in May 2023. She plans to return to America to attend college. “I was happy to have been accepted into UC Davis. I love California because the weather and sky are so beautiful.”
Christine has big plans for her future. “I am going to major in Landscape Architecture and work for my master’s degree. Then, I will go back to South Korea to be an integral part of planning the environment of the city. I love ecology, biology, design, and art. The degree requires all the things that I love, and it suits my interests.”
Kelly shares, “Christine is not afraid to invest time and energy to achieve her goals, advocating for herself and for causes in which she has strong beliefs. I am certain that her performance as a college student will be stellar, and that she will always take on challenges with pride and determination.”
Kathleen sends this message to Christine:
“Christine, you were an absolute pleasure to have in the program. I have enjoyed all our talks in the last four years and love watching you blossom in the program. I will miss you so much! I am happy to hear about your next big adventure in life, and I know without a doubt you will be successful!”
Sharon closes with this message for Christine:
“Christine, we have thoroughly enjoyed having you in our home. You will always be a part of our family. We only wish we could have had more time together. We are happy you are staying in the U.S. to continue your education, and we will certainly see you soon! We wish you the absolute best going forward and know that you will be extraordinarily successful in whatever you take on. Keep being you!”
Written by Flo Webb; Edited by Lauren Lunt