Students gather around a table, squeezing in chairs to make room for a few more people. They lean in close to hear one another over other conversations, laughing and chattering like old friends.
One would never guess many of them just met within the week, and most speak English as their second language.
The lunch includes Indiana University Kokomo students and their visitors, nine nursing students and a faculty member from Jesus University, Jeonju, South Korea.
While the trip is academic in nature — the visiting students attend classes on campus and participate in clinical experiences at area hospitals with IU Kokomo’s nursing students — it also is a cultural exchange, and allows faculty and students to build relationships.
Senior Krista Eiler admits to being nervous to meet them at first, but quickly was comfortable talking to the students.
“I thought it would be hard for us to understand each other, but it wasn’t,” she said. “I hope to visit South Korea one day, and would love to look some of them up. I know they would be welcoming.”
Na Hyoun Eom, who used the English name Catherine during her visit, also was pleased with to make friends with her American counterparts.
“We were able to share what we love and know, and compare our medical system and our culture.”
Go Un Jeong, or “Diamond,” found the IU Kokomo students, faculty, and staff friendly and interested in asking questions. Her favorite part of the week was a meal of American cuisine, prepared by IU Kokomo students.
“It was delicious, especially the cheesecake,” she said.
The visit is a learning experience not only for the visiting students, but their hosts, according to Lucy Tormoehlen, assistant professor of nursing, who coordinates the exchange.
“It’s an opportunity for our students to speak to someone from another country, and learn about that country, without having to travel,” she said. “For both the American and Korean students, it expands their outlook on the world, and gives them global experiences. As nursing students, they learn about what medical care is like in other countries.”
The exchange reaches out into IU Kokomo’s region, as the South Korean students explore the communities during their visit. In addition to clinical experiences in Kokomo, Tipton, and Indianapolis, the students sampled sweets at the Samaritan Caregivers Chocolate Celebration, visited the Cass County Dentzel Carousel, took in a symphony performance at The Palladium in Carmel, attended services at First Evangelical Presbyterian Church, and saw a musical at Beef & Boards dinner theater.
Brian Arwood, a senior nursing student, traveled to South Korea in 2014 with IU Kokomo. He was glad to renew friendships with some of the visitors he met while at Jesus University, and said the overseas programs are valuable on both sides.
“Any time you can gain a global perspective, see the global picture, you enrich your learning experience,” he said.
Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana.