That year as an exchange student was critical and consisted of many personal milestones


That year as an exchange student was critical and consisted of many personal milestones


I became an exchange student to the U.S from South Korea in 2005 when I was 16 years old in high school. For the program I enrolled as a J-1 visitor, I had little control as to where I wanted to be placed in terms of geographical locations within the U.S. The general overarching policy of the program was to place students in rural areas where they would have little access to immigrant communities of their own background so as to enable a deep immersion in whatever local American culture to which they will be placed, to the culture of American families to whom the students would be indebted for their consummate learning experience.

To me, that year as an exchange student was critical and consisted of many personal milestones that truly benefited me. I was placed in a rural small town in norther Mississippi, the name I had never heard as one of the United States until I was told. I arrived to a home of an elementary school teacher who shared little cultural background with me. Yet, my sincere desire to learn English and the culture was met with her overwhelming kindness and willingness to help me with the process. We commuted to the same school, dined together often with her friends and families, and had conversations about just about every topic from homeworks and girls to religions and politics. This was the routine for me every single day. And each day was marked with a remarkable progress. I became more fluent with English on a daily to weekly basis and quickly built proper understanding of various cultural contexts in which I was involved at different places such as school, church, and other social gatherings. But more importantly, I learned to cultivate confidence and compassion by interacting with people who presented such characters around me. I later realized developing such characters for myself was critical to continue to live in the U.S. with independence and responsibilities for other people.

Today, I have bachelor’s and doctor of philosophy degrees from a top-20 university in the U.S. I am currently a full-time researcher at MD Anderson Cancer Center, one of the world’s most renown cancer centers. I am married to a lovely wife, and we have two children who are born here in the U.S. I invited my families from Mississippi to come for my wedding in Korea, and they came to celebrate together. I now share more language and cultural backgrounds with them than I do with my friends and families in Korea. I continue to expand my personal networks with people of immensely diverse backgrounds, and I speak at national and international conferences to talk about my works in front of a large group of people with confidence and appropriateness. I know that I could not have been successful to my current extent without the experiences I had as an exchange student 13 year ago.


Samuel Hong 🇰🇷
exchange student from South Korea 2005
Samuel was living with the Urban Family in Sarah, Mississippi


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