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Middle school students particpate in exchange program with South Korean sister schools

PMG PHOTO: HOLLY BARTHOLOMEW  - Yeeun Jang (left) and Serim Park (center), students from Eonyang Middle School, laugh while making friendship bracelets with Athey Creek student Deni Hart. Four teachers and 22 students traveled 5,270 miles last week to visit West Linn's Athey Creek Middle School.

The group, from Eonyang Middle School in Ulsan, South Korea, came for a weeklong exchange.

In March, around two dozen Athey Creek students will make the trip to South Korea, where they will stay with their counterparts from Eonyang for a week, and spend another week visiting students from a second sister school in Daegu. The students from Daegu visited Athey Creek in October.

Athey Creek social studies teacher John Moshofksy has led the exchange for the past six years.

"We treat them like they're family and then when we go over there, we get treated like family," Moshofsky said.

While visiting Oregon, the students from Eonyang attended a day of classes at Athey Creek, experienced American commerce at the Woodburn outlet mall, made Athey Creek-Eonyang exchange T-shirts and friendship bracelets, visited the Oregon Korean War Memorial in Wilsonville, as well as the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, Oregon Health & Science University, and Lewis & Clark College.

Serim Park, a 15-year-old student at Eonyang, said she enjoyed attending classes at Athey Creek. She also noted that the students there were kind.

While no Athey Creek students speak Korean, the students from Eonyang have been studying English for a number of years.

Moshofsky said students also use translation apps and hand gestures to communicate during the exchange.

Athey Creek eighth grader Deni Hart, whose family hosted Park, said she's already learned a lot about Korean culture and history and is looking forward to the trip in March.

"I'm most excited to meet my host family and to see their school," Hart said. "My brother went two years ago and he told me that their schools were much larger than ours and he said he felt really special (during his visit) because it's not every day that an American comes to their school."

Moshofsky, who has visited South Korea each of the past five years, said that it's a valuable experience for the students.

"They get to learn about a different culture. They also get to be independent," he said. "They're put in a position where they have to figure things out as eighth graders. They're going to a place halfway across the world. They don't know the language. They're staying in a strange home; they've got to deal with that. They've got to develop the maturity to handle that."

Moshofsky also remarked on the lifelong connections the exchange can form."I have high school students who come talk to me and say they're still in contact with their homestay family," he said. "We've had more than one Korean student who came here and has come back and stayed with the same family just on their own."

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