Trinity, St. Joseph’s International Program5 min read

It all began six years ago, when Dr. Mija Noh Kim and her husband approached Trinity Lutheran School in St. Joseph looking for a Christian school to have Korean students attend. She and her husband visited all the Christian schools in our area and decided that Trinity would best meet their needs. She began volunteering in the classrooms and taught Trinity students a class on Korean culture.

In 2012, through her connections in South Korea, Dr. Kim arranged for 3 students to come spend a year at Trinity. For the next couple of years, we would receive 3 Korean students at a time to spend a year with us. We eventually hired Dr. Kim to be our international students’ coordinator.

International Program Takes Shape

Dr. Kim started working on increasing awareness about our international program and had ads placed in Korean media outlets. A year and a half ago, Dongrae, a public school in South Korea, responded, and Dr. Kim and myself worked together to make contact with them. Dongrae has a terrific reputation in South Korea as a public school with over 600 students. Pastor Roth, Dr. Kim, and myself skyped with the principal and two instructors from Dongrae to put faces with the names and answer any questions that had come up. In January, Mr. Lee, an instructor at Dongrae, visited St. Joseph and Trinity for a week. We had a wonderful week of exchanging ideas and touring the sights of St. Joseph. Finally the plan was hatched: Trinity would host a three-week summer camp for students at Dongrae.

For three weeks in August, Trinity hosted fifteen young people from the Dongrae School. The students came, eager to learn about life, culture, and education inbandphoto95201695089525951395049532 this little corner of the world. It turned out that it was not only the Korean students who were learning during this camp: the rest of us, who were privileged to work with them, were learning way more than we expected.

Days Filled With Learning

The 4th-7th grade students were immersed in language, literacy, science, nature, and the international language of music. Part of the time the students were studying at Andrews University, where they were housed, but much of the time they enjoyed being students at Trinity. They were split into two groups based on age, so the teachers and students were engaged in a small group setting where their individual differences and interests were able to be celebrated.

Pastor Gerber shared his passion for God’s hand in nature. He commented, “One of my favorite parts of the Korean Camp was how different Day 1 was from Day 2. On Day 1, I taught 15 students who, combined, didn’t say more than 15 words in 45 minutes. I would ask questions … crickets. Were they even understanding me? I had no idea. But then Day 2 came, and it was as if I had a different class. They asked questions. They participated. It was so much fun to see them open up and to learn more about their individual personalities!”

Listening, speaking, reading, and writing are all ways to embrace new educational opportunities, and our literacy specialist for this camp was Kim Kelly. She enjoyed being able to share ideas with them and help them to do some creative writing. Another area they shared was some classic American stories. The students demonstrated an amazingly strong mastery of reading and writing, especially considering it was their second language.

Fun and Blessings

Science explorations are often of high interest to students and are naturally engaging as the problem solving begins. Tim Ernst was excited to share his passion for science with the students who also demonstrated a high level of interest, a commitment to seeing things through to the end, and an unexpected level of mastery. Some of the activities they enjoyed were making a wet cell that actually made a motor run; designing, building, and launching a rocket that went 1,000 feet into the air; and having balloon races that were testing Newton’s Third Law of action/reaction. They even spent two afternoons learning archery skills and having a little competition, replete with some trophies to take home. So much data to record and analyze! The students also embraced tours of the water filtration plant in town and had a wonderful insider’s view of the US Coast Guard Station.

Our Director of Music Ministry, Ms. Paula Steuernagel, can make anything fun, and she certainly enjoyed her time with the students. Here are a few words about her experiences with these students:

I worked with the students on music. I thought they might like to learn some of the songs and styles of music that American kids also learn. The first song we tackled was “The Hokey Pokey.” Yes, there were a few eye-roll moments when we first started, but they were great students and learned the whole thing. A few days later, the kids were at the band shell by the St. Joe River having lunch and attending the Brown Bag Lunch Concert Series. I don’t know the band that was playing that day, but all of a sudden the kids started jumping up and down screaming, “We know this! We know this!” The band had just started playing “The Hokey Pokey.” What a great moment to see their faces and the recognition that they knew a truly American song. The Hokey Pokey became our camp song and we kept singing it throughout the weeks and even sang it as a big group at the final awards ceremony.

I’m not certain who had more fun or did more learning this summer, but the Trinity faculty did a wonderful job of creating meaningful and worthwhile activities and explorations for the guest students, and created memories to last a lifetime for all involved. This was certainly a case of “Blessed to be a Blessing.”

Photos courtesy of Trinity, St. Joseph

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About the Author

Terry Bird is a Concordia University Ann Arbor and Nebraska graduate serving as teacher and principal for nearly forty years in the Lord’s ministry in Missouri and Michigan. She and her husband Tom reside in Stevensville and are members of Trinity, St. Joseph. Cindy Ernst, also a Concordia University Nebraska graduate, has embraced being a Lutheran educator for over forty years. She has enjoyed being a faculty member at several elementary schools, and for the past 14 years has shared her passion for mathematics and education with students at Western Michigan University.

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