“You put the ‘international’ in Seoul International School!”
The handful of ethnically foreign students at SIS often hear this from the Korean students—if it can even be called a joke anymore, because it has become a mere retelling of the facts. With every new foreign student—whether it be a teacher’s child or just a transfer student—joining the school community is a new addition to the diversity and variety in the student body. However, although it is a gain for the relatively homogenous student population, the transfer students themselves are often initially met with difficulty in terms of adjusting to a completely new community. Dharma Langham (12) and Jessica Langham (10), the daughters of high school English teachers Jessica Terbrueggen and James Fischer, are just two of these students who had to adapt to an environment different from the ones they had previously been attached to.
Before moving to Seoul, the Langham sisters moved out of the United States to spend three years in China, where they both attended the Dalian American International School, and two years in Ecuador, at the Academia Cotopaxi American International School. Although these schools have the commonality of all being international schools, each school has its own distinct culture, as all schools do. Each time they moved schools, Dharma and Jessica had to focus not only on striving to be successful students, but also on adjusting to the new environment they were placed in each time.
“Although some people might think of it as inconvenient to have moved around the world so frequently, I can’t complain about the path my parents have given me,” Dharma said. “To be honest, I would say that anywhere I have lived since moving out of the States has been very eye-opening and amazing. I loved living in Ecuador: it was a beautiful country from its people to its picturesque backdrop. I do miss it, but Korea is a new adventure for me and so far, I am really enjoying getting to know a new place.”
One of the biggest complaints about SIS by its students and faculty revolves around the abnormally high level of academic competition, especially when it comes to college. Even the students who have been attending this school for years—for some, over a decade—feel stressed out when trying to maintain high grades. But Dharma and Jessica, who have not been living in such competitive environment for their entire lives, are making their way in adjusting to the atmosphere.
“I have had to make a lot of adjustments to my daily habits since I moved here, and part of it has been spending a lot more time focused on academics,” Jessica said. “It’s challenging to have to deal with the incredible amount of stress and weight this school has when it comes to grades, especially because I’m not very well accustomed to it. My approach when moving, which I do very often, is to always remember that the first year is the most difficult, and that things will get smoother over time.”
For Dharma, who is a new senior this school year, her responsibilities regarding things ranging from college applications to straightening out technicalities have been accumulating. There have been very few students over the past few years that moved to SIS during their senior year, which means the school administration is also not very well-accustomed to working with students who have had no prior records at this school before applying to college. According to Dharma, the fact that she has attended three different high schools hasn’t in any way negatively affected her chances of college acceptance, but it has definitely not made the process any easier. She is still working with Mr. Schneider as well as the college counselors from her previous schools to make sure her transcripts from all three schools are in line with each other.
However, through the struggles of having to adjust to a new community while fulfilling their responsibilities as students, the two sisters have found ways to enjoy their new lifestyles. Through the support of their friends and family, they have been able to find outlets for what would otherwise have been a stressful and strenuous transition. Dharma has expressed her passion for writing in her free time, and Jessica is a prospective actress.
“I am very interested in the performing arts, and hope to grow up to work as a professional actress,” Jessica said. “The drama program at this school is particularly well-developed, so I think it is in line with my path for the future. Some students have been particularly welcoming and have made school much more enjoyable—I know that the friends that you make along the way are friends you will have forever. Although I do miss everyone from my previous schools, I know that this school will continue to welcome and surprise me in many ways.”
Though the first two months of school may have been a mixture of emotions ranging from apprehension to excitement to maybe even a sense of remoteness from the ‘Korean’ community at SIS, those were just the first few steps necessary for a hopefully more comfortable future at this school for the two Langham sisters.