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Graduation is always a sad occasion. For many it means saying goodbye to close friends and family. But for the most part, graduates are only just a few hours by car away. This distance is much larger for some students in the English Language Learners classes. Many ELL seniors will be leaving not only RBHS, but the United States.
Minsoo Soh, President of the International Cultural Organization, will be leaving for his home country, South Korea, after graduation. Although he wishes he could stay, the cost of college in America is too expensive for his family. And as a male born in Korea, he also has to complete the obligatory two years of military training.
Soh is sad to be departing, but he is glad that his legacy of the ICO will remain after he leaves. He decided to create the club after a very difficult first year at RBHS.
“When I came here I was different, and people were not paying attention to the international students,” Soh said. “They don’t care about us. I wanted to change that. I wanted to make ICO to give an opportunity to the foreign exchange students and kids with bad English to make friends with American kids. I wanted to change the society at Rock Bridge.”
One of the club’s members, senior Petch Norkaew, said she felt alone when she came to RBHS, but through friendships she formed in ICO she finally felt comfortable.
“When I walked into Rock Bridge I fe[lt] like I was different. I felt weird,” said Norkaew. “But when I am in ICO I feel like I’m OK. I feel like I’m the same. I’m at home.”
Norkaew, like Soh, will be leaving at the end of this year. She flies back to Thailand on June 13. To celebrate and send off the seniors who would be leaving, the ELL students came together to take part in a good, old-fashioned American barbecue on May 8.
ELL teacher Peggy White cooked brats and burgers on Bethel Park’s open grill and a huge array of ethnic foods littered the wooden tables. Students signed their names and heartfelt notes in each other’s year books and took pictures together with the “classic Korean peace sign.” Laughing, the kids swapped memories about the crazy games played at ICO throughout the year.
A surprise visit came early on in the picnic when Jerry Lin, junior at the University of Missouri – Columbia, showed up.
“I came because my friend is leaving for the army in Korea for two years and wanted to see Mrs. White; we were her students five years ago,” Lin said. “I still keep in contact with some of my class.”
White said many ELL students come back to visit and remain close with their peers because of they form strong bonds helping each other through the difficult task of learning English.
“Even though most of them are in ELL classes, we never get them all in one spot at the same time,” White said. “The picnic, and ICO, are good ways to try and do that.”
The friendships formed in ICO and ELL are special, Soh said, because the students help each other through the difficulties of learning English, adjusting to a foreign culture and understand each other’s problems better than most.
“I will really miss my friends here,” Soh said. “I want to advise everyone that although it’s hard to talk to foreigners to make the effort because it is so hard for us. I also want to advise the international students to not be shy and make some friends. … I wanted to change RBHS, and for me, I did. I will miss here.”
By Maria Kalaitzandonakes
Photos by Belquis El-Hadi