RIVERSIDE— Da Min Ko is much like your average teenager. She loves spending time with her friends, listening to music, and cheering on her favorite figure skating duo in the Winter Olympics. But fifteen-year-old Da Min made the sacrifice for the future of her education to travel more than 6,800 miles from her home in Seoul, South Korea to attend a Rhode Island Catholic school.
It was after a thorough six-month search of more than 100 schools that Da Min’s father, Sonwook Ko chose St. Mary Bay View Academy for his daughter.
“I did several searches in the U.S. because of the very good education and living,” he said. “My friend recommended Providence. I compared several schools for their academic programs and education. I found that Bay View was very good, and a very nice choice for my daughter.”
Da Min explained that her parents wanted to send her to a Catholic school because of the well-rounded education that it offers its students.
“American Catholics teach their beliefs and offer a better education,” Da Min said. “I think learning morality and religion makes us think about how to make better decisions.”
After careful thought and discussion, Da Min and her family knew that Bay View was the right choice. After a 20-hour flight to the U.S., she arrived last August and has been living with her host family, the Croke’s ever since. Da Min shared that living with the Croke’s is like having another family.
“I was very homesick at first because it was very different,” she said. “America was a culture shock, but it’s very good. There is nothing really hard any more. It’s just like family. They always have an open mind to having people come.”
Cathy Croke and her daughter Emily, a former Bay View grad, were eager to host the new student. They also provide a home away from home for another Bay View exchange student Xinru Lu, 15, from China. Cathy said that she was happy to welcome the girls to her home especially after suffering the loss her husband Richard.
“We were used to having such a busy life,” she explained. “I brought them in to add some life to the house. I just thought it would be a nice experience. It has made my life so full and it’s been very rewarding.”
Knowing that Da Min would probably be homesick for her family, Cathy tried to make her feel as comfortable as possible.
“I just included her into everything from day one, made her feel like one of my own,” she said.
In the seven weeks that Da Min’s family visited Rhode Island, the two families grew very close despite the language barrier.
“I felt like she was a sister,” Cathy shared about her feelings with Da Min’s mother, JiYeon Lee. “The only barrier was the language, but we communicated by our hands and expressions. It was very easy because we had the connection. I consider them like my family.”
Bay View principal Colleen Gribbin, said that having exchange students enhances the school’s community and offers a global perspective for the other girls.
“No matter what girl comes through here, we hope we can graduate a young woman who can really go out and make a mark on this world for good,” she said. “If you ask any of the teachers they would just say she is a delight. The whole family has been wonderful.”
Excelling in her studies, especially in her favorite subject, math, Da Min explained that attending a Catholic school provides her with small classes that allow for close interaction with the faculty.
“The teachers are more personal,” said Da Min. “There are less students in class. It is more like having private teachers.”
Da Min shared that many of her fellow classmates helped her adjust to life in the U.S., through their sincerity and kindness.
“They were so nice,” she said. “At first, I always lost my way. I was standing there in the hall, thinking, ‘where do I go?’ and everyone would come up to me and help me find my way. I’ve made some best friends.”
Even Da Min’s siblings attended Catholic school during their two-month Ocean State visit. Her younger sister Yu Min joined her at Bay View and her brother Dae Woong attended St. Luke’s in Barrington.
“He came to Bay View and took a little school bus to St. Luke’s each morning,” Da Min explained. “He made a lot of friends. He said that he would miss them. They already exchanged emails and they took a photo on his last day.”
Da Min said that she appreciates the sense of family that she found at Bay View.
“I was very excited to attend an all-girls school,” said Da Min. “I am very happy to be able to go to Bay View. Everyone is very friendly. We all know each other. It is a sisterhood.”
Sonwook explained that he is delighted that he could offer his daughter a Catholic education because she has received all the love, support and confidence she needs for her future.
“She is very happy and I am also very happy. They love my daughter,” said Sonwook. “We are just like one family.”