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Rotary exchange student and Hudson hit it off

YH was off to his first day of American high school via a school bus, the first he'd ever ridden on. Submitted photo1 / 2
Young Hun Seo, aka YH, has been part of the Bell family in recent months, playing big brother to a sister and two brothers. From left front Sonja, Young Hun (YH) and Kristian. Back Brian, Erik and Lucia Bell. Submitted photo2 / 2

This isn't Young Hun Seo's first visit to the United States and it likely will not be his last.

YH, as he is known at Hudson High School, Hudson Rotarians and the Bell family, is from Busan, a harbor city of 5 million in South Korea, known for shipbuilding and the largest department store in the world. He is spending the year in Hudson as a Rotary exchange student and is thoroughly enjoying the experience.

He has been living with Brian and Lucia Bell and their three children, Erik, Kristian and Sonja since he arrived in August. He has visited the United States with his own family but wanted to experience a more extended stay because he is considering attending college here.

Outgoing and talkative with a good command of English, Seo is considered a sophomore at HHS. He is 15, 16 in Korea where they consider the day of birth as a person's first birthday. One of the things that surprised him the most after starting school was the length of the school day. At home the school day can run from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. and generally includes Saturday study.

"This day is very short compared to home. And students have a lot more freedom to choose their classes. This can be both good and bad. It is nice to have more free time but it might be bad for your future. Students at home are highly motivated to study because they are pressured to do well," said Seo.

Seo was excited to be part of this week's HHS holiday concert and has enjoyed his time in choir under the direction of Andy Haase who he greatly admires. He has also enjoyed his math and history classes and watching Raider sports.

He has found history class particularly interesting and he isn't sure he "trusts" everything he hears and reads. "Obviously everything is from an American perspective. People from other places see things differently."

He reiterated this point of view when he spoke at a Daybreak Rotary meeting recently. While the recent attacks by North Korea on the South have been big news in the United States, he said incidents like these go on weekly between the two countries and Koreans have learned to live with them. He also believes his country would be better off without the large U.S. military presence and believes the South Korean army could defend the country. "It feels like an occupation. I don't think you would like it if someone was occupying the United States the same way."

Politics aside, YH has found making friends at HHS easy but says young people here tend to take things too seriously. "When they have a fight or disagreement, they take it hard and don't let it go. At home, we disagree and argue but then let it go pretty quickly and move on. I think we (Koreans) have cooler heads."

In addition to the friends he has made in Hudson, Seo has enjoyed getting to know other Rotary exchange students from throughout the world and has formed friendships that he believes will last. "There is sometimes a language barrier but you can figure it out if you try hard enough."

As he prepares to move in with his next host family, Trica Christensen and Christopher Mick, he leaves the Bells with a great fondness. The family began his stay with a trip to northern Minnesota and first-time experiences with camping, swimming, tubing, waterskiing and fishing. He accompanied them to visit family in San Francisco over Thanks-giving. He describes them as "amazing" and if he could give his host father Brian one thing, it would be time. "He works very hard and is going, going, going. I'd like to give him time to just relax."

Seo says he stays in regular touch with his family via Skype and the Internet. His father, Won Ho Seo, is an eastern doctor and his mother, Jae Ho Seo, is in graduate school for social work. His younger brother, Young Jun Seo, is in middle school.

Seo says his experience this year in Hudson confirms his desire to attend college here and study robotics, maybe at MIT and someday run a company of his own. "That is how students think in Korea -- with an eye to the future."

For more information on the Rotary Exchange Program contact Jamie Johnson at (715)386-8217 or by e-mail at jamesj@lommen.com.

Meg Heaton
Meg Heaton has been a reporter with the Hudson Star Observer since 1990. She has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and Native American Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.
(715) 808-8604
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