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Exchange students offer unique perspective

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Jeff and Joanne O'Leary with South Korean exchange students Gi Seok Sung and Gi Seong Kim.

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Jeff and Joanne O'Leary with South Korean exchange students Gi Seok Sung and Gi Seong Kim. Photo Store

Perhaps we never truly appreciate our own lives, until we see them through the eyes of others.
This summer, my husband and I hosted three South Korean students through the University of Winnipeg’s Homestay Program. It was a learning experience for all of us.
My husband  and I learned that South Korea is an Asian country about the size of Lake Winnipeg, with a population of 50 million. Not surprisingly, our visitors were amazed by the wide open spaces in Canada. One student told us that only the very rich in Korea can afford private homes with lawns and gardens. There is simply no space available for such luxuries. They were also impressed by the many parks and green spaces in our city.
Even the mundane routines of daily life surprised our visitors. They were delighted that bus drivers were so kind, and that they could find a seat on the bus each morning. They marvelled at the lack of traffic. They were also amazed that drivers in Winnipeg do not constantly beep their horns and actually allow people to cross the streets. The students were happy to meet our neighbours, and were impressed by the friendly people in Winnipeg.
Moderate summer temperatures, and long summer days were a novelty for them. Our guests appreciated the healthy air quality and the bright blue skies of Winnipeg.
Upon arriving in Winnipeg, after a 30-hour journey, one of the students paused and looked up at the night sky. He couldn’t believe the beauty of the stars.
He explained that, in Seoul, it is impossible to see the stars because of light pollution.
Our three students studied diligently during their stay. It is essential for young people to learn English for future job prospects in Korea. They were surprised that Canadians have so much free time. Korean students are pressured to do well and one student described our lifestyle as much more balanced.
During their stay in Winnipeg, the students met people from other countries, visited several Folklorama pavilions and found the multicultural face of Canadian society fascinating.
They were impressed by the freedom we enjoy in Canada. All South Korean men must serve two years in the military. The threat of North Korea looms large in the national psyche. Canadians rarely think about national security. My husband and I learned that freedom is a privilege.
This summer, we realized how often we take life in Canada for granted. My husband and I learned to appreciate Winnipeg, Manitoba, and Canada, through the eyes of three South Korean students.
Joanne O’Leary is a community correspondent for Riverbend

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