She had to travel 7,000 miles, but Seungeun Song is living out her dream and seeing what America is really like.
The 15-year-old Comsewogue foreign exchange student, who goes by Cathy, made the trip from her hometown, the South Korean city of Incheon, to Long Island at the end of January through the educational tour group EF Explore America. To participate in the program, the high school sophomore had to score well on a written exam and decide which country she wanted to visit.
“I wanted to come here to learn English better and make American friends,” Cathy said in an interview in the home where she is staying in Port Jefferson Station.
Upon arriving in New York, Cathy, who once briefly visited the United States as a young child, stayed with a welcome family before moving in with her Dorothy Street hosts, the Bernets, about five weeks ago.
Since starting classes at Comsewogue High School, she has made the honor roll and is having a great time experiencing American education.
She will stay stateside until the end of January 2016.
“Everybody is nice to me; they help me,” Cathy said. “It’s fun to learn something else in another language.”
Cathy said she likes school in the United States better than in South Korea because it is not as strict. One of her favorite things, for instance, is that she is allowed to eat during class, something she said would never be allowed back home.
“I like it here better,” Cathy said. “Korea is crazy about studying, but here I feel comfortable … and I’m doing OK.”
Cathy said high school in South Korea runs nine hours a day. Students then eat dinner and go to study until about 10 p.m. There would sometimes be class after that, too.
As the school year is coming to a close, Cathy has plans to travel, including a trip to Walt Disney World with another exchange student staying in Smithtown, a two-week trip to South Carolina to visit her aunt and cousins and excursions with the Bernet family.
“I want to take her to Broadway,” host mother Linda Bernet said. “We’ll cook, go upstate and I want to take her to the beaches.”
Cathy isn’t the only one getting the experience of a lifetime — Bernet said her home’s new resident has brought a lot of joy into her life as well.
“It’s been nice because we do things together,” Bernet said. “We are really kind of learning from each other.”
Bernet got the opportunity to host Cathy through her gym — Cathy’s exchange coordinator was teaching a class and asked if anyone was willing to take in the girl during her stay or knew someone who would. Bernet was intrigued and offered to do the job.
Through the experience, Bernet has decided to become a coordinator for EF Explore America to help connect exchange students with families here on Long Island.
Since Cathy arrived here, she and Bernet have done a lot, including a trip to Times Square, visits to the nail salon and some local shopping. They also have dinner together as a family every night. Soon Cathy will join the family on trips upstate to their second home.
“I want Cathy to have a good feel of the U.S. and see what kids here do,” Bernet said.
The student will also get the chance to make money like any other American teen with a part-time job this summer, as she learns how to babysit and take care of three of Bernet’s grandchildren, who often come over to ride scooters with her.
While Cathy is enjoying her time in New York, she misses home and Korean food, despite finding American food and Bernet’s cooking delicious, she said. She uses Skype regularly to chat with her mom and her younger brother and sister back home. Her time away from them has taught her a lot.
“I’m having fun because I get to be independent,” she said.
Because she has enjoyed her time in Comsewogue, Cathy said she may return to the United States for college.