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BEA exchange student adds America to list of places traveled

By Staff | Dec 6, 2010

Nok Lee goes by Kate while she attends BEAHS as a foreign exchange student.

An only child in a huge city, Nok Lee grew up in Hong Kong with her parents, who are both originally from the city themselves. Her dad is employed at a post office and her mom does paperwork for a hospital. With no siblings to joke around with, Nok — also known as Kate — says her mother would worry about her.

“She’s scared that I will be very lonely so she start taking cats back home,” says Kate, whose family now has five felines.

But her mom doesn’t need to be too concerned, because Kate is able to find entertainment away from the cats by going to movies, singing karaoke or hitting the mall with her friends.

“We really like shopping,” she says.

She’s also gotten plenty of socialization since she was about 8 years old, when she started joining organized groups of children who would travel to different countries for three- or four-week vacations.

Richard and Margaret Sunderlin of Elmore are hosting Kate, along with a student from Thailand.

Kate has been to Australia, Thailand, Canada, the Philippines, England and Singapore, and is now experiencing life in the United States as a senior at Blue Earth Area High School.

“I really wanted to be a part of America high school,” Kate explains about her decision to be in the exchange program. “I probably watch too much movies.”

Kate’s only reservation about the foreign exchange student process was being nervous that she wouldn’t meet any friends. But that hasn’t seemed to be an issue since the 18-year-old — who originally wanted to further her education in California — is considering attending college in Minnesota now that she has friends in the area.

By living with Richard and Margaret Sunderlin in Elmore and attending BEAHS, Kate has gotten to know many people in southern Minnesota, but she still remains in touch with her friends back home through Skype, Facebook and MSN.

Kate keeps in contact with her parents also, but tries not to make it too regular or the conversations too long.

“I don’t really want them to miss me,” she says.

At home in Hong Kong, Kate’s school day starts at 8:45 a.m. and finishes at 3 p.m. or 3:30 p.m. She sits with her classmates in one room through eight different lessons, 40 minutes long, while teachers rotate. Since her school, unlike BEAHS, has students choose a certain subject to learn about, Kate elected to focus on history classes.

“If you want to study science, you can’t learn about history,” she explains.

Contrasting curriculums aren’t the only things Kate has adjusted to since moving. Downgrading in size is another big difference she experienced when going from her home town to Minnesota. She left a school of 1,000 students to attend one of about 350 in Blue Earth.

“I like that it’s not many people because in Hong Kong it’s too much population,” she says.

However, a trip to New York City in November reminded Kate how much she actually misses a big city.

Before going out of state with other local foreign exchange students, Kate hadn’t yet gotten a real taste of Minnesota winters, but upon her return, the ground was covered in snow and temperatures took a steep drop.

She says she isn’t a fan of the winter weather, but seems to be making the most of it since Hong Kong doesn’t have snow. Kate is excited to go ice skating and was intrigued by the idea of skiing.

As a nice balance to cold outdoor activities, Kate will be able to warm up indoors as she practices and plays on the Bucs’ basketball team this season.

“I’ve played (basketball), but I’m not really very good at it,” she says.

Even when she’s away from people at school or friends on the team, Kate can always visit with one of her classmates at home because the Sunderlins are hosting two girls at once. Krissana Lao-Amornphunkul, the Sunderlins’ other “daughter,” is also 18 years old and visits the U.S. from Thailand.

“They kind of rely on each other,” Richard says. “We were very lucky getting these two girls.”