At 7 a.m. on October 17, Skyline students, and one teacher, gathered in the hall and performed a flash mob dance to “Gangnam Style,” an extraordinarily popular “K-pop” (Korean pop music) song. It was still dark outside and rather chilly in the hall, but that could not stop the enthusiasm of both the performers and the astonished audience.
Skyline was putting on the show for a group of tenth graders from Incheon International High School, a school located in Incheon, South Korea that educates the nation’s top one to two percent of students. They were here as a part of the Global Exchange Program, which brings the students over from South Korea to visit the United States and get a taste of an American high school. This was Granite School District’s third year of involvement.
The Incheon students left earlier on in the month, and for many of them it was their first trip to the United States, not to mention their first trip out of the country. They traveled first to San Francisco, where they saw the Golden Gate Bridge and ate seafood on Pier 39, then came to Salt Lake City. After their short stay here, they continued on to Universal Studios in California and Las Vegas before returning home on October 24.
Each Incheon student was paired with an American “buddy” who chose them weeks in advance of the visit, and the two soon-to-be-friends emailed and got to know each other long before they met. The two groups of students then got to spend two days sharing and coming to love each others’ very different yet startlingly connected cultures.
The first day of the visit, the Koreans followed their partners around to their classes at school. All the Incheon students found American high school strange, “It’s more free than Korean high schools,” admitted Song A Lee, but she, and hopefully the others, loved the different experience.
After school got out, the Incheon students went on a tour at the University of Utah. The Granite School District students met up with them at a nearby park for a Korean barbeque dinner later on. The rice, glass noodles, dumplings, and kimchi (fermented cabbage) contrasted sharply with the cheese pizza that the Incheon students had for school lunch that day.
Following the dinner, the Koreans put on a small dance performance for the others. Their cheerleaders and dance company performed routines to K-pop songs, and then a large group did the “Gangnam Style” dance, the same choreography from the music video that the Skyline students used. Without realizing it, students from two opposite sides of the map had planned and rehearsed the same dance to perform in front of the other group. This wonderful coincidence, an unexpected connection between two diverse cultures, only strengthened the growing conviction that the students weren’t quite so different from each other as they had thought.
After a final day of hiking, shopping, and continuing to connect culturally, the time came to say goodbye. The new friends parted with sincere regret and promises to email and Facebook. Lee said her favorite part of the trip was meeting new friends and experiencing American culture, “It is so good!” Lee enthused, and her sentiment was reflected fervently on all sides.
Lee and the other Incheon students returned from their American experience to South Korea, to a boarding school thousands of miles from here where they attend class from 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m., study Korean dancing and instruments like the janguu on top of English and math, and live a very different life from students here in Salt Lake City. But, despite all these differences, two days together proved to the American students and the Korean students that they were more deeply connected than either had imagined.