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Korean Students Find Second Home in Shanghai
A sense of home.

That's what Park Dong-hwa and Park Da-oi, two girls from South Korea, have in common after nearly a month's stay in their Chinese host's home.

The girls, both aged 18, are grateful they escaped from the strict regime of dormitory life in Jincai High School in Pudong last year.

"We feel freer here than in the school dormitory, plus we have more chances to savor genuine Korean food," said Park Da-oi, sitting casually in the pair's small yet cosy bedroom.

Wang, who prefers to be identified with her surname, is their Chinese hostess.

"They have become members of my family and part of our lives," said Wang, a local middle school teacher. "My husband and I are doing our best to create a home from home for the girls and make their daily lives and study easier."

Every morning, Wang gets up early to wake the girls. Then her husband, who is also a middle school teacher, prepares breakfast for them and sees them off to the school bus.

The girls' appetite for Korean cuisine is also satisfied because Wang's husband brings home food cooked by the Korean chef in his school.

Homestay Program

The two girls, along with 14 other Korean students, are enrolled in a homestay program launched by the International Division of Jincai School this term.

Division director Zhang Lei said the school has more than 150 overseas students, almost half of whom are from South Korea.

Parents of these students either live in Shanghai and neighboring areas or operate businesses in other parts of China. They are increasingly realizing the importance of knowing China.

"Rather than merely improving their Chinese, the parents expect their children to learn more about the society and culture here," Zhang said.

The school has organized weekend homestays which helps enrich the lives of overseas students.

But long-term homestays, which were first considered after a German student came to the school on a cultural exchange program, encourage a deeper understanding of Chinese society by living with local families.

Students who knew no Chinese can now speak putonghua, the standard Chinese, and even some Shanghai dialects after only six months' stay with their host family. Their parents and teachers have also embraced the idea.

Host families must not just offer a roomy apartment. The school prefers would-be hosts to be teachers and select warm-hearted, easy-going and responsible candidates.

"So far, so good. The students are being accepted into the families and, to our delight, the changes are mutually beneficial," Zhang said. "If this program is successful, we will continue it."

Home Away From Home

Xu Qian, in her 30s, hosts two 17-year-old South Korean boys, Son Dong-uk and Yoo Su-jwan.

"We have to tackle many things -- for example, how to prepare meals, that suit their tastes and our diet,'' she said.

"But it's pleasant now that I've begun to understand more about their tastes, such as their preference for meat and traditional Korean spicy food."

Son said the arrangement was "quite comfortable, and terrific for our study." His Chinese, after a year's study, is quite good.

Despite their cultural differences, the students and their host families have developed lively and harmonious relationships.

"The homestay, in a way, lets us taste a different and new lifestyle," Xu said. "We prefer to regard them as friends that we get along well with."

The boys add new life and vigor to her family's previously routine and tranquil existence, Xu said.

"Their stay not only makes us feel younger, because of their active natures, but also helps us to create an easy and healthy environment for our 5-year-old son," she added.

The boys have a positive attitude towards their studies and novel environment.

"I'm here for my future. I wish to stay in China and work as a doctor of traditional Chinese medicine some day," said Son.

His roommate Yoo said he wanted to become a businessman, involved in trade between China and South Korea.

To help the students learn the Chinese language and culture in an informal setting, Wang and her husband talk with them at the dinner table. The girls talk their experiences in school and their host explains anything unfamiliar to them.

In Wang's family, they hang Chinese calligraphy on the walls and they display famous Chinese books on their shelves to create an atmosphere of learning.

"Children learn about Chinese culture in a very informal and vivid way," Wang said.

(China Daily April 1, 2003)

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