During exchange, cultures blend

ajames@newsobserver.comJuly 26, 2013 

— A Wake County couple has found a rewarding way to fill its empty nest.

In January, Yvette and David Davis of Garner welcomed 15-year-old Yelim “Limy” Yu into their home.

Yu arrived from South Korea through an exchange program called Education, Travel and Culture. She enrolled at West Johnston High School as a sophomore and will continue there this fall as a junior.

Playing host to an exchange student wasn’t something the Davises had set out to do. “It was completely unplanned,” Yvette Davis said.

She had attended an international festival in Raleigh with a friend who was interested in hosting an exchange student. Davis decided to learn more after a meeting a woman who had welcomed an exchange student into her home.

“Having never done it before, I thought a year was a big commitment, and I said I’d do it for a semester and see how things went,” Davis said.

But by the end of Yu’s first month, Davis knew she didn’t want her to leave after school was out.

Davis and her husband have both lost children to tragedies. Her 13-year-old daughter, Alyssa, died in a car crash in 2006, and David’s son, Josh, was killed in 2004. Yvette’s other daughter is 23 and a teacher in Hawaii.

But Yu has done more than fill an empty nest. Her presence has encouraged the couple to explore their state and the country more because they want her to have a good experience by seeing as much of the United States as possible.

“It has helped us appreciate where we live in a new way, stepping out and doing things we don’t normally do,” Davis said.

They have attended outdoor concerts, visited museums in Raleigh and traveled to both the beach and the mountains, where they toured the Biltmore House. Now they are out West, traveling from Las Vegas to Los Angeles to San Francisco to Oregon.

Of the places she’s visited so far, Yu said she liked Disney Land best.

Davis said she has encountered some cultural differences she couldn’t have anticipated. One time, Davis noticed that Yu would not step close to her. That, Davis learned, was because she did not want to step on Davis’ shadow. In South Korea, children are not supposed to step on the shadow of their elders.

Another cultural difference is food. Together, Davis and Yu have cooked bulgogi, a South Korean dish with grilled marinated beef, and rice has become a Davis household staple.

“Now I have a 25-pound bag of Korean rice we use,” Davis said.

Davis said the program is ideal for people who want to explore their communities, states and country. It’s not for people who expect to be compensated for taking in someone else’s child.

“The idea is they’ll pay for their own expenses, but you end up doing what you do for your own kids and paying for them,” Davis said.

A representative from Education, Travel and Culture visits the Davis home each month for an assessment, and the family has to send Yu’s grades to a local coordinator.

Crystal Allis, the regional coordinator for ETC, said the number of host families for exchange students has dropped in recent years. The program has placed many students in Wake County and wants to increase its presence in Johnston County.

“We are really wanting to help bring more students to Johnston County schools in order to promote international awareness,” Allis said.

“For people who love to travel but for someone who can’t for some reason, it’s a good way to explore another country without having to leave your own town,” Davis said.

James: 919-553-7234

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