Korea native among grads

Published 10:06 am Thursday, June 4, 2009

A lot can happen to a person in two years, and Ji Hoon Kim knows it can change your perspective on the future.

The South Korea native and Pacelli High School graduate is now ready to move to the next stage in life, tassel turned and diploma in hand. St. Mary’s University and a new community in Winona, Minn. await.

“I want to do math; I was thinking accounting or math teaching,” he said after some thought.

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Like most foreign exchange students, it’s been a journey in more ways in one: The 19-year-old left his homeland three years ago for Detroit Lakes, Minn., and came to Austin a year later. He has had to assimilate to the new culture, master a different language and become acquainted with his new “family:” host mother Reenie Hogan.

“She’s like a best friend,” Kim said. “We can talk about anything.”

Kim, a single child with two busy parents — his father is a retired former mayor — wanted to change the direction his life was going while in South Korea. High school is 15 hours per day, six days a week.

“Why not go to the United States and make a new life?” he explained. “In Korea, all the people study, study, study in high school. I think this is better.

“My first year I was not great at speaking,” Kim explained. “There are only 100 kids at Pacelli, and it’s easy to make friends.”

Kim enjoys physics and pre-calculus the most, and played basketball and baseball his first year; exchange students are not allowed to participate in extracurricular activities for more than one year by Minnesota rule. He was allowed to stay two years in Austin as an exchange student because he attended a private institution.

Kim visits home each summer because of visa requirements. He said he would like to attend St. Mary’s for two years, then transfer to the University of Minnesota and college in Korea. Before age 30, he must fulfill his required two-year service in the military.

His host mother, Hogan, welcomed Kim into her home with open arms. Her own daughter, Pacelli sophomore Kellsey Hogan, died nearly three years ago. Kellsey would have graduated Wednesday.

“She’s acting like I am her real son,” Kim said of Hogan’s graduation preparations. “I didn’t know Kellsey, but I know she was special.”

On Kellsey’s memorial display at the commencement, Kim wrote: “You have the best mom…”

Kim was inspired by many people at Pacelli, including his physics teacher, Anne Christopherson, or “Mrs. C.”

“She’s the best teacher,” he said. “All people think it’s a hard class. She makes it fun.”

He will also miss his new friends; however, he is rooming in college with fellow graduate Colin Sheehan.

“They are all my best friends, the senior class,” Kim said. “Finally, we made it. It was a tough year, but we made it.”