By Samantha SLAYBACK
Sixteen high school juniors, including Rachel Harvey of Crescenta Valley High School, will be flying to Korea in April as part of Project Bridge, a year-long program that immerses students in the nuances of Korean culture, while encouraging the development of leadership skills and cultural understanding.
Developed by the nonprofit Pacific Century Institute, the program annually selects 16 students as youth ambassadors and, over the course of the year, the ambassadors are introduced to various aspects of Korean culture, history and government and the experience of Koreans in America.
Harvey’s interest in Korean culture began in the fourth grade when she befriended a Korean exchange student named Divina. Though Divina eventually moved back to Korea, Harvey and Divina still maintain contact, a friendship that sparked a continuing enthusiasm for the Korean language and culture.
Now in her second year of Korean language classes at CVHS, Harvey was introduced to Project Bridge through her teacher, Tina Song. To Harvey, the program sounded like “a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
In order to trim 135 applicants to just 16 (eight from the Los Angeles region, eight from the New York region), Harvey and the other students underwent an application process that was akin to applying for college, including an interview, multiple essay prompts, letters of recommendation and a reviewing of transcripts. Fifty-one applicants made it to the interview phase.
According to Judy Choi of the Pacific Century Institute, “A review committee chose 16 of the most promising candidates, weighing their leadership capacity, commitment to the program, personal motivation and goals for participating in the program.”
The youth ambassadors had their first orientation in Koreatown in December and have begun meeting regularly several times a month, attending educational seminars to expand upon their knowledge of Korean society and, of course, brush up on their Korean language skills.
Those skills will be put to the test when the students fly to Korea in April for a study tour, which will have the youth ambassadors visiting several notable sites and experiencing Korean culture firsthand during a stay with a host family. Among the locations the youth ambassadors will visit are Korean high schools and universities, historical landmarks, cultural landmarks such as the Seonunsa Buddhist Temple, various businesses and industrial sites, government buildings, the U.S. Embassy, and the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating North and South Korea. From April 1 to April 12, the students will plunge headlong into Korean life, something Harvey has looked forward to for much of her life.
“”I have always wanted to go to Korea,” said Harvey. “I am so excited. We’re going to get to see a lot of things that regular tourists don’t get to see and completely immerse ourselves in the culture.”