Su Kim always knew she wanted to go to college in the United States. Growing up in South Korea, she knew she wanted a broader variety of educational fields to choose from.
So, when she was in high school, Su’s mother suggested she apply to be an international student and go to the U.S. for a year to see if she’d really like it.
That was two and a half years ago. On Friday night, Su will walk across the stage with her classmates at Westminster Catawba Christian School as a graduate of an American high school and, in just a few months, she’ll begin her career as an American college student at California Polytechnic State University.
“I am very proud of myself,” said Su, 18, just a few days before graduation.
It’s not that she doesn’t love her home country, where she lives in a small town in the middle of the country.
“There’s just more variety of culture and race here,” she said of the United States. The education system is also about more than just academics here, which Su said has made her love her school experience.
She played clarinet in concert and jazz band, and participated in art and other clubs and activities.
In South Korea, she said, she’d have to stay at school until 10 p.m. or later just focusing on her classes and homework.
But life in the United States hasn’t always been so easy.
“I was very naive and didn’t know the hard things,” she said, like being homesick.
Her summers also have been spent in the United States. In her two and a half years here, she’s gone back to South Korea just twice to see her parents and younger brother.
Here in Rock Hill, Su lives with a host family she described as “unique.” The Frank family, is interracial, she said, and Su and a Chinese exchange student live with them, so they get plenty of stares when they go out in public as a family. Still, she said, they always have a good time.
This is her second host family. During her first semester at Westminster Catawba, she stayed with the Payne family. Both the Franks and the Paynes will be at Su’s graduation to help her celebrate.
Su has a servant’s heart and is a true leader, said Amy Wurthmann, Westminster Catawba’s international student coordinator. She watches students like Su overcome all kinds of obstacles to achieve their educational goals in the United States.
“Students like Su have so much to adjust to here that we don’t even think about,” she said. “There’s so much that’s different culturally.”
Students often aren’t used to having any type of relationships with their teachers or the way adults interact with children – to say nothing of the music, food or language in the U.S.
But for international students like Su, Wurthmann said, graduating from high school is one big step toward achieving their American dream. This year, 20 international students attended Westminster Catawba.
While she always thought she’d be excited to graduate, Su said she’s starting to have mixed feelings now that the day has finally arrived.
“I’m very happy to graduate,” she said, “but also, it’s hard to say goodbye to my friends and teachers.”
Su will spend the summer with her family in South Korea, tutoring other students and working on her English writing skills before coming back to the United States in August to start college in California. She plans to study architecture.
College will bring its own challenges, Su said. She’ll have to be more independent and mature than in high school, but Su said she’s ready because she’s already overcome so much.
“I feel I achieved something, because I didn’t go through the route that normal students go through in Korea,” she said. “I did it.”
Su and 47 other seniors, including four other international students, will graduate from Westminster Catawba Christian School on Friday night, the first area high school graduation of the year.