BUCKFIELD — Four seniors at Buckfield Junior-Senior High School said they became foreign exchange students to improve their English.

They also share something else in common: Playing high school sports, which they do not do in their homelands because there is not time.

“We don’t have a life; we just study,” said Soyoung Park, 16, of South Korea. “So, like playing sports here is kind of a big experience for me, so I try to play every sport we have.”

Those include soccer, basketball and softball.

Park said she was “really tired of the Korean education system” which holds classes from early morning until late at night. She told her parents she needed to try different things. By attending an American high school, she also thought she would have a better idea whether she would eventually move here or stay in South Korea.

“I think that is the biggest part, and the second biggest part is I think I cannot have enough experience just spending time in high school,” because learning also happens outside of school. “So I thought I can have my own time more if I come here and also I can learn English and American culture. I thought that would be super helpful for me.”

Quang Bui, 17, of Vietnam said at first he did not want to come to Maine, but after his mother’s encouragement and following some research on the internet, he changed his mind.

He checked out the school in the internet “and it said they have a good environment to, like, improve (my English skills), and have a good job for computer science,” he said.

His sport of choice: soccer.

Phimraphat Soonjun, 16, of  Thailand said she not only wanted to improve her English skills, but sought to “experience high school and the culture and everything.”

She participated in cheering and softball.

Cheerleader and softball player Sofia Martinez-Soriano, 16, of Spain said being a foreign exchange student in America is a fun way to learn English and experience high school life “with the yellow buses and the cheerleaders.”

Being in Maine has also made her think about attending college here because she has “a really, really good relationship” with her host family, Sarah and Jason Berry of Turner.

Park’s hosts are Sarah and John Bernard of Buckfield, while Bui and Soonjun live with Jillian Chabe, also of Turner.

All three women said they have gained weight since their stay in Maine, mostly because their diets here rely less on vegetables, fish and rice.

“In Spain, we all cook every meal,” Martinez-Soriano said. “Here, I feel like people just go and buy food from restaurants, like all the time.”

Park said her weight gain might also be from more muscle due to athletic activities.

Quang attributed his lack of weight gain to his daily workouts.

Among the activities the students are enjoying with their hosts: four-wheeling, snowmobiling, boxing, playing Nerf guns, shopping and sightseeing in New York.

Foreign exchange students attending Buckfield Junior-Senior High School are, from left: Quang Bui, of Vietnam, Soyoung Park of South Korea, Phimraphat Soonjun of Thailand and Sofia Martinez-Soriano of Spain. Rumford Falls Times photo by Marianne Hutchinson

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