GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas --
It may seem intimidating to open up your home to a complete stranger, but it could result in a rewarding experience. Tech. Sgt. Traci Lara, 17th Training Wing equal opportunity advisor, experienced how rewarding it can be to learn about other cultures with her family.
When Lara was 28 years old, her parents hosted a foreign exchange student from Nonsan, South Korea.
Seongwon Kang was just 14 years old when he came to America for the first time. When he arrived, he didn’t know English or much about American culture.
“He said the scariest, most challenging thing was learning English,” said Lara. “He didn’t know anything and now, this is years down the road, I call him and have conversations with him on the phone or on video chat. It’s super cool how far he has come.”
When Seongwon began school, he had the option to go by a more “American” name, but decided against it.
“When the foreign exchange students came to our school, they would usually choose an American name. I liked that he did not,” said Lara. “He kept his Korean name. He kept his tradition. I was proud of him for that.”
Although Lara didn’t get to see Seongwon as often as she would have liked, she formed a bond with him and now considers him her brother. The family considers him as one of their own and look forward to his arrival each year. Currently, Seongwon is back in Korea for the next couple of years to complete his mandatory military service, so the family will not have as much contact.
“I would describe our relationship as lighthearted and fun,” said Lara. “We both enjoy teasing my mom and Seongwon has a good sense of humor. I usually only go home once a year so that’s how often I get to see him. This last time I went home was the first time he wasn’t there and I was pretty sad I didn’t get to see him. However, we FaceTimed, so I got to see him and ask if he is ready for the military.”
The South Korean mandatory military service is for an average of two years. Seongwon is planning to return to the U.S. to complete college after fulfilling his required time in the military. Lara looks forward to sharing a military experience and hopes that it opens up a new avenue of conversation between them.
Lara’s parents opened their home up to Seongwon and had the chance to learn about a different culture as well as share their culture with him. Although it will be a while before Seongwon returns to the U.S., Lara and her family are planning to keep in touch and look forward to welcoming him back after his completion of his military service.