Education programs help South Korean sisters adjust to life in the U.S.

Published 9:00 am Sunday, December 4, 2016

Adjusting to life in a new country can be challenging.

The Albert Lea Adult Basic Education program at Brookside Education Center has played a role in helping two women adjust to life in America.

Kelley Petersen and Jenny Petersen — who came to the United States from South Korea in November 2015 — attained their GEDs in October.

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The girls attended public school in South Korea until Kelley Petersen — now 20 years old — was in fifth grade and Jenny Petersen — now 19 years old — was in third grade.

The girls said the atmosphere in Korea was different than the one in the U.S.

“They still had a lot of bullying (of) American kids, because they were not used to being around American kids,” Jenny Petersen said, adding that their parents were concerned about the possibility of them being bullied.

Private school was expensive — about $1,000 per month. The girls were homeschooled for six years.

They credit the teachers at Adult Basic Education for helping them achieve their goals.

“The teachers and everyone, they just make us feel like we’ve known each other for a long time or something,” Jenny Petersen said. “They always, like, ask us if we have any questions first, because I wasn’t used to having a teacher in front of me because I was homeschooled. But the teachers, they take it slow.”

The girls said teachers were supportive to each student.

“It was just very nice,” Kelley Petersen said.

“It’s not just to one person; it’s to everyone,” Jenny Petersen said. “They take care of each person to make sure everyone is doing well and everyone is getting the education they need.”

Brookside’s mission is, “To provide adults with educational opportunities to acquire and improve their literacy skills necessary to become self-sufficient and to participate effectively as productive workers, family members and citizens.”

Adult Basic Education students must be at least 17 years old, not enrolled in secondary school, be seeking a secondary credential or be functioning below the 12th grade level in reading, math, writing or English.

More than 68,000 students are enrolled in adult basic education in Minnesota. Courses are offered in English as a second language, math, citizenship, writing, reading, transitioning to college and work, paraeducator training, digital literacy and classes at Riverland Community College and Freeborn County Detention Center.

“The entire staff strives to meet the needs of our students, not only academically, but also socially and emotionally,” said Penny Jahnke, Adult Learning Center coordinator. “We really get to know our students, and they get to know us on a personal level.”

Jenny and Kelley Petersen said there was an adjustment they needed to make when they came to the United States — especially friendliness of local residents and cold winters.

Their father, Mark Petersen, is from Albert Lea. He now has a job in Saudi Arabia.

“It was a big difference from Korea,” Jenny Petersen said. “In Korea, there was a lot of apartments and stuff, but in Albert Lea there was just small houses and yards.”

“It was a big change,” Kelley Petersen said. “We did come visit every four, five years.”

Jenny Petersen said she appreciates the kindness of people in the United States.

“They’re very nice,” she said. “If you just look at them, they all say hi and ask how you are doing, In Korea, it’s like, weird, to just talk to a random person.”

She said she has found this country to be welcoming.

“I love talking with people. People here are very open. They don’t really judge you about how you look or where are you are from or anything. They are just very open.”

Jenny Petersen plans to attend Riverland Community College for computer technology. She is now a substitute paraeducator in the Albert Lea school district.

Kelley Petersen said she is not sure of her future plans.

“It still hasn’t hit me that I finished it,” Kelley Petersen said. “It was my goal for a long time to finish high school and get a GED, but now it is another step to take.”

She said getting her GED was like a dream.

“I still couldn’t believe it. I still thought I was dreaming or something. It still feels like it right now, too.”

About Sam Wilmes

Sam Wilmes covers crime, courts and government for the Albert Lea Tribune.

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