The smells of sesame oil and garlic waft through the air at a local hotel conference room, as visiting nursing students from South Korea bustle among the tables. Smiling, they urge their Indiana University Kokomo hosts to sample the spicy foods they’ve prepared, including bibimbap, a mixed rice dish with vegetables, chili pepper paste and soy sauce, an bulgogi, grilled marinated beef.
From time to time, groups of Korean and American students lean in together for selfies, giggling as they post them on social media. They also use translation apps on their phones, to overcome any language barriers.
For 17 years, IU Kokomo’s School of Nursing has hosted students and faculty from Jesus University each winter, giving students from both countries a chance to learn first-hand about another culture, while making friends. In May, IU Kokomo students will travel to South Korea, where many look forward to renewing friendships made this month.
“The exchange is a testament to long-lasting Korean-American friendships and commitment of faculty, students, and all in the north central Indiana region who welcome our guests in one way or another,” said Dean Linda Wallace.
“It is important because lifelong friendships are forged, and because students on both sides of the oceans, even if they personally never travel overseas, can create an international friendship.”
Many of the IU Kokomo students who shared the Korean meal plan to see their new friends later this year, and are excited to experience their culture.
Nursing student Jessica Green said the IU Kokomo and Korean students hit it off right away, and plan to maintain their friendships through social media until they meet again in May.
“It makes me feel more comfortable going to a new country, because I know what to expect a little from meeting them,” she said, adding that they learned even though they are learning to be nurses on different continents, they still have much in common.
She noted one of the Korean students had her first clinical experience with the IU Kokomo students, and was visibly nervous, and she could empathize.
“In my first clinical, I cried within the first 15 minutes,” she said. “I could totally understand what she was going through.”
Rachel Coombs anticipates the trip to Korea, and seeing how nursing is practiced in Asia — as well as seeing her new friends again.
“This is one of the only travel opportunities where they come here first, and we build friendships,” she said. “I am excited to see where they live, and experience Korea the way they experienced Kokomo.”
“We don’t want them to leave, ever,” added nursing student Nevada Jones.
Wallace began the exchange program with South Korea in 2000, beginning with a faculty exchange. Since then, the campus has hosted about a dozen students and faculty members for two weeks each spring semester, and taken IU Kokomo students to South Korea during the summer.
In addition to visiting nursing classes, the South Korean students joined Spanish and radiology classes. They also participated in nursing clinical rotations at area hospitals, attended a concert at The Palladium in Carmel, cheered at a Cougar basketball game and experienced a Thanksgiving meal.
Se-Ung Lee, a South Korean businessman and philanthropist, has supported the program for 15 years with grant funding.
Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana