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Our first exchange student

Somewhere in the lines of translation between English and Korean, being “disgusting” has a whole different meaning. My family’s very first exchange student learned this the hard way.

 In 2010, Kim Dong-Hyun was a 15-year-old exchange student from the big city of Seoul, South Korea and was dropped here in a small town of Indiana. I remember the day we picked him up from the airport and meeting my first big brother.

At Prairie Heights, Kim played varsity soccer and baseball for Prairie Heights High School and earned his varsity letter.

At his school in South Korea, they attend school from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m., go home to eat lunch, then return to their second school and study from 6 p.m. until 9 p.m. They then return home only to study for both schools. That’s a lot of schooling and not a lot of down time.

So playing a sport here was a big deal to him; earning his varsity letter was even better. He really wanted a letterman jacket but just didn’t have the money for it. The biggest smile I ever saw on his face was the day he pulled his jacket out of the box my mom and dad gave to him between his birthday and Christmas.

Apparently he was quite popular in his new high school. Kim was first voted Prom Prince of 2009, then in the fall was voted Homecoming King. Who would have thought a new, foreign kid would take the crown, not once, but twice?

Throughout the year, we have experienced cultural differences, traditions of South Korea, and a few mistranslations; “Disgusting” being my favorite. When exchange students come here, it takes time for them to adjust to the weather and the food. In that process, they often become ill as they experience things their immune system has never encountered before.  

One evening, Kim came upstairs with a look of discomfort on his face stating that he was “disgusting.” We all looked at each other and couldn’t help but laugh. We proceeded to ask him how he was feeling and what was bothering him. All he could say is that it was his stomach and that he was “disgusting.”

We finally came to the conclusion that he meant “I’m sick,” not disgusting. We explained to him what he was saying and he laughed too. Ever since that day, my family calls those funny misinterpretations “disgustings.”

So all in all, our first time around the block went really well and had me and my family hooked on the program. We have now hosted 18 different students from the countries of South Korea, Thailand, Brazil, Italy, China, Mexico, Poland, Vietnam, Taiwan, France, and Belgium.

We have seen and heard of a lot of “disgustings” from our students, other students, and other host families, but nothing quite like Kim’s – he set the bar pretty high.