Alex Yoo: ‘I’m Afraid My Younger Sister Will Forget My Face’

Alex Yoo sits in his Paramus, N.J. home while his guardian looks on from the living room. (Photo by Peter Moskowitz)

Alex Yoo, a 14-year-old who just finished 8th grade, lives at the Green Homestay house in Paramus, N.J. His parents pay the Korean-American woman who runs the homestay, which houses three study-abroad students, $2,500 a month to take care of Alex. Yoo attends Waldwick Middle School, a New Jersey public school, and goes to a private tutoring academy with other Koreans three days a week. He has been in the United States for three months, and is currently taking his summer vacation back in Korea. He plans to return in the fall.

Alex Yoo’s narrative is one of three stories on Korean study-abroad students who have lived in North America without their parents.  Yoo’s first-hand account has been translated from Korean, edited, and condensed.

I’m not into studying. I like physical activity mostly.  I wasn’t interested in studying when I was in Korea. They only emphasize hard academics, whereas here you can focus on physical activity. I was not a good student in Korea.

My father wants me to finish high school here. When I think about my family and friends, I want to go back there. I’d like to play soccer with my friends in Korea. But I’m concerned about getting into a good university back in Korea. Getting into a prestigious college there is very hard.

Alex Yoo plays a soccer game on his Xbox, and eats a bagel. (Photo by Peter Moskowitz)

My friends in Korea are under a lot of pressure in school. Compared to their lives, this seems like the right choice. If I were in Korea, I would be stressed out like they are: going to classes, preparing for midterms. Some of my Korean friends told me they were jealous of me.

I hang out with American friends only at school.  I hang out with other Korean friends in church. After school and the private academy, I usually just stay home — searching the Internet, playing piano, playing a video game.

I’m not lonely, but since school ended I’m bored. I want to go to summer camp and hang out with my friends. I don’t feel alone because my guardian does everything instead of my parents.

When I graduated 8th grade, my guardian was there instead of my parents, and I felt a little bit hurt.  Sometimes I miss my family, I’m afraid my younger sister will forget my face.

But I like it here, especially since I like physical activity.  I can do it every day here, and that doesn’t happen under the Korean curriculum. And I like my homestay. The other four Koreans who attend Waldwick all live in another homestay together, and they told me they don’t like it because their guardian doesn’t let them go to church.

I do regret not studying harder in Korea. That’s the reason I’m here now.

Edited by Peter Moskowitz

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