GORHAM – A Gorham family, teachers and students have learned much from Hyunmin Bae, an exchange student at Gorham High School who will return to South Korea this summer after studying and tasting life in Maine.
Bae, 17, is known by her nickname “Min” at Gorham High School. She was selected by CIEE, a nonprofit, international exchange program, to live with a Gorham family and attend school. Bae is a native of Goyang, South Korea, which is near the capital city of Seoul.
Edward and Gail Platts, whose children are grown, have been Bae’s host family here since last fall.
“We had an empty nest,” said Gail Platts, administrative assistant at the Gorham Recreation Department.
The Platts chose Bae from five students available from the international agency to live with them.
“She’s become a member of the family,” Platts said.
Platts said she, her husband and Bae dine together nightly.
“Family dinners are important everywhere,” Bae said.
But, their time together as a family is soon coming to an end. Bae will leave Gorham on Saturday, July 5, to fly home to South Korea, a 20-hour trip.
This is Bae’s second trip to America. She previously visited New York and Washington, D.C., three years ago with her parents. But, Bae said, she worried a lot before coming to the United States to attend school. She worried about classes and making friends.
Her fears proved unfounded.
“Kids here are so good,” said Bae, who easily smiles.
At Gorham High School, one of her teachers is Scott Caulfield of the history department.
“Min has been a great student to have in American studies. She has a very high work ethic, which demonstrated itself in her work and assessments,” Caulfield said. “Her conversational language was not as advanced as her reading, which presented challenges, but her writing was advanced for someone who was speaking a second language at this age.”
Caulfield said Gorham students learned from Bae.
“We had a number of interesting points in the year when topics we were covering intersected with Korean history, and her eyes would light up,” he said. “At these junctures, she spoke to the class about the Korean point of view, which added depth and a broader understanding to the rest of the class, most of whom were born and raised in Gorham.”
Bae said her favorite classes include art and percussion ensemble. Platts said Bae plays several musical instruments, including piano.
Bae also played a cowbell.
“I had never seen one,” Bae said.
Besides academics, Bae participated in extracurricular activities. She attended soccer games, and she joined the math team, Key Club and Drama Club.
“I was in a musical, ‘The Wizard of Oz’,” Bae said.
“She had two speaking lines,” Platts said.
Bae was also a member of the tech crew for the school’s “Mother Hicks” one-act drama team.
“We won the states,” said Bae.
The Platts and Bae kayaked at Shaw Park in Gorham and Bae also learned to ski. She skied down Shawnee Peak where Edward Platts is a member of the ski patrol.
“She’s a very good skier,” said Gail Platts, who accompanied her on the slopes.
During her stay in Maine, Bae enjoyed seeing farms with cows, as well as the state’s wildlife.
“I never saw wild turkeys before,” she said.
She saw a porcupine and is hoping to see a moose before leaving.
In another first, she picked apples with friends at Randall Orchards.
When she returns to South Korea, Bae will continue her high school education in her hometown. Caulfield said Gorham students “appreciated the differences between Korea’s approach to schools and curriculum, and the much greater focus and value they place on education.”
Caulfield said she described classes in Korea and the typical day there as much more intense, with classes starting at 7 a.m., and continuing to 5 p.m.
After dinner, study groups and classes resume from 6:30 to 8 or 9 p.m. for subjects that students might be having difficulty with, Caulfield said.
In South Korea, she’d get home from school at 10 p.m., Gail Platts, said.
Gorham High School’s day begins at 7:50 a.m. and lets out at 2 p.m.
Also, at Gorham High School, students move to other rooms between classes, unlike the school Bae attends at home.
“We stay in classes, and teachers come in,” Bae said.
Bae hopes to attend college in the United States. Platts took Bae to visit Northeastern University in Boston, where they rode the subway. Traveling on the transit system didn’t faze Bae, Platts said.
During her stay in Maine, Bae enjoyed walking beaches and seeing the Atlantic.
“I like looking at the ocean and putting my feet in the water,” she said.
She leaves others with memories of her visit.
“It was a pleasure to have her in class, as she was friendly with our students,” Caulfield said, “and provided an example for what diligent study can achieve, especially as she was immersed in classes that were completely in the English.”
Platts said Bae has helped her and her husband be more aware of what the community has and to be appreciative.
“Sometimes we take things for granted,” Platts said.
Hyunmin Bae of South Korea, left, and Gail Platts are pictured in Robie Park with Gorham High School in the background. Bae, an exchange student, leaves on July 5 after nearly a year living with Gail and Edward Platts, her Gorham family.