A few rounds of bowling, an introduction to American fried foods and endless waves of a new language. This was the experience of a dozen brave schoolchildren visiting Lodi this month.
Twelve students from South Korea spent three weeks at St. Peter Lutheran School to work on their English skills and soak up American and Christian culture.
"People at this school are wonderful. There is such a wholesome, family feeling," said chaperone Sun Moon, of Seoul, South Korea.
Moon has ferried students on four trips from South Korea to North America through a company called Univest Foreign Exchange Academy. Their mission is to expose South Korean children to Western culture in Australia, Canada and the United States. The students are from all over the country. This time, a group of 42 students visited schools in Novato and Lodi. Eight students attended Lodi Christian School, too.
The group took weekend trips to San Francisco's Chinatown, the Jelly Belly Factory, the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the train museum in Old Sacramento.
Tonight, each student will give a presentation of what they learned during their time in Lodi, and what memories they will carry back to South Korea. Some prepared songs or skits to share with their new friends.
On Thursday, the older students will set out on a tour of Ivy League universities on the East Coast, and the younger ones will take in Disneyland and the Universal Studios Hollywood theme park.
Each student stayed with a host family and at least one other student from home.
Principal Anna Hu hosted two students in her home for the duration of their trip, and has grown familiar with the sound of two young girls chattering away to their parents on the phone each evening.
The experience has been positive, and at least one student says she would like to stay longer, said Moon. Others are feeling homesick.
"I miss my mom," said Hae Eun Cho. "But (the experience) has been good."
Kim Cheol Hyean, who goes by Daniel in California, enjoyed American sports during his visit. He went bowling for the first time and got a score of 104.
"I like playing basketball with my American friends," he said.
Several children had problems with jet lag. Hyean was unable to keep normal hours for nearly the first two weeks of the trip.
"I would wake up at midnight and couldn't go back to sleep," he said. There is a 17-hour time difference between California and South Korea.
One major change for the students was the difference in school culture. Moon said most classrooms in South Korea have at least 50 students. These classes seemed very small to the visitors.
Some students were not too keen on American food. Moon said food here is saltier and more greasy than food in South Korea, as well as less spicy. Some host parents prepared foods from Korean grocery stores to help their guests feel more at home.
"Some of the lunches, students said, 'Oh, I can't eat that,'" said Moon. "Some families are trying to help kids too much, buying Korean food. But kids are kids."
Hyean enjoyed lamb and salmon cooked by his host family.
Each child had to think for a moment before sharing his or her age. In Korea, a child is considered one year old at birth because they are currently experiencing their first year. The second year begins on the Lunar New Year, even though Koreans do celebrate their own birthdays. Someone born only a few days before the Lunar New Year would be considered two years old.
Jina Kim is 12 years old by American standards, but is 14 in Korea.
She especially enjoyed her host family because her two "brothers" for the trip were adopted from South Korea at birth.
"They are very kind," she said of her host family. The hardest part for Kim has been communicating in English, but she said she has improved some since she has been in Lodi.
Moon said everyone's English skills have gotten better.
"Everything they hear is English," said Moon. "They have to pick up at least a few words."
Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at email@example.com.