Students from Yeongcheon, South Korea Participate in Exchange Program in Buffalo, New York

Korean students from Buffalo, New York’s sister city, Yeongcheon, South Korea, recently spent three weeks as participants in Medaille College’s “Introduction to American Culture” English immersion program.

The program started when Dr. Norman Muir, Vice President of Student Affairs at Medaille College, spoke with the Buffalo-Yeongcheon Sister City Association (BYSCA) about hosting a three week immersion program for Korean high school students. BYSCA heartily agreed to help implement the program and in June of 2014, members and non-members of BYSCA started a local Buffalo Homestay Program. BYSCA members come from all over Western New York but share a love for Buffalo and were proud to host one or more students for a weekend sojourn during the immersion program.

In recruiting potential homestay families, consideration was given to people who lived in a variety of neighborhoods that would help the students get a true understanding of the cross-section of Buffalo life. To get a full view of life in Buffalo, a city in the middle of a renaissance, students stayed in the suburbs as well as in the inner-city. The aim of providing diverse families in different parts of town was partly to show students the dynamism of Buffalo’s multi-cultural population and to dispel any myths associated with the community.

The Stevens family welcomed four Korean boys to their farm, which is on the East Side of Buffalo and the largest urban farm in the entire state of New York. The boys took part in farm chores, played basketball with the Stevens’ sons, and participated in lively family discussions.

Another three girls stayed with a married couple who are friends of the Stevens and live nearby. The girls remarked that it was surprising to watch the father of the family help the mother prepare meals and take care of the children.

On Grand Island, NY, Ida Barr, her daughter, and grandchildren welcomed a student named Kim Ha-rim into their family. The kids shared their music with each other, as the American kids showed Kim videos of their favorite Hip Hop artists and Kim showed them videos of her favorite K-pop bands. Ms. Barr remarked that the whole family was deeply moved by their shared connection to music and the universality that allowed them to develop affection for their new friend.

Lisa Kistner welcomed a girl to her home, taking her with her family to church, Sunday school, and enjoyed long conversations during and after dinner. Ms. Kistner remarked that after the end of the stay, she and her homestay student were still emailing weekly, “she’s family now, she’s my Korean daughter.”

In three short weeks, students gained tremendous confidence in speaking English, and most notably had an experience that they said had changed their lives forever. Once the program ended, one student started to tear up as he asked about various people he’d met including Dr. Jeremy Sideris who organized the immersion program and field trips. “Every time I think of Buffalo I want to cry, I miss it so much,” he said.

Host students and families alike had a great experience learning from one another’s cultures, and BYSCA was able to provide life changing opportunities through its sister city partnership. Interested in hosting an international high school student for a semester or academic year? Sister Cities International helps to provide this unique opportunity for cultural connection through the High School Homestay exchange program. SCI helps to coordinate youth participants and assists with processing exchange visas so U.S. member cities can host high school students from their international sister cities. To learn more, please visit