Incheon student-exchange visit

Visiting high school and college students from Incheon, South Korea, try their hand doing leather work at Ralph Foy Park on Monday, July 28, 2014. (Roger Wilson / Staff Photographer / July 29, 2014)

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A dozen students crowded around a picnic table at Ralph Foy Park in Burbank Monday afternoon, decorating leather bracelets and bookmarks.

The high school and college students hailed from Incheon, South Korea, Burbank’s sister city since 1961, and were visiting Media City as part of an annual summer student-exchange program. The leather class was one activity planned for their two-week visit, during which the students, ranging in age from 17 to 23, are staying with host families in Burbank.

“The kids are having a fabulous time,” said Library Services Director Sharon Cohen, who oversees the exchange program. “We try to give them a good overview of what Burbank and L.A. has to offer.”

With visits to Disneyland, Universal Studios and the Getty Center already under their belts, the Incheon students still get to visit the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Underwood Family Farms, where they’ll go strawberry picking, during their final week.

Some of the exchange students have known their host families for years.

Through the program, Mason Keefe, 17-year-old senior at John Burroughs High School, visited Ota, Japan, Burbank’s other sister city, in 2012 and then Incheon last year. Her family is currently hosting a boy whose family hosted her last year in Incheon. The year before, the boy’s sister stayed with Keefe, who is an only child, in Burbank.

“I didn’t have any siblings before, but now I have siblings all over the world,” Keefe said.

During the year, some students keep in touch via email or FaceTime.

“I feel so comfortable with them,” said 22-year-old Incheon student, Namhee Lee, of her friends in Burbank. The sunny weather, local beaches and palm trees are also a plus, she said.

For Burbank student Sasha Landau, 19, traveling to Ota through the program last year changed her life. “You really strike up a great relationship across the world,” she said, adding that the trip ignited her passion for traveling.

But hosting is just as rewarding for some Burbank students.

“You get to show off your hometown,” Landau said.

Chaperone Minjong Yu, 34, said the home-stay program allows her students to experience American culture more deeply.

“I love this place, the food, culture — people are so nice,” said Incheon student Sehyun Park, 15, adding that his favorite part of the trip so far was seeing the Hollywood Walk of Fame and Universal Studios. “The movie sets were really cool. Those are things I can never see in Korea,” he said.

Meanwhile, Deukwon Kim, 23, enjoyed visiting Disneyland the most. “I grew up with Disney, so I really wanted to go to Disneyland,” he said.

In class, Kim painted his American name, “Jason,” on a leather bracelet. He named himself after musician Jason Mraz, he said.

Burbank, meanwhile, sent a dozen local students to Ota this summer. Cohen said she’s seen local students mature through the program, and even go off to study Japanese or Korean after their travels.

“They really go away with a whole different feeling about the differences we have and how, ultimately, we’re all the same,” Cohen said.