Ray and Renita Williamson of Coon Valley were a little teary eyed when they drove home from the Dane County Regional Airport in Madison in June. The Williamson’s had just dropped off their host son, Jaeuk Jeong from South Korea, at the Madison airport for his 20 hour return trip back home.
The Williamsons never planned on hosting a student, but after 10 months of having him in their home, Jeong truly became like a son to them and they missed him after he was gone.
Jeong, age 17, came to America from Daejeon, South Korea. He was placed with the Williamson family through a program called the Council for Educational Travel USA (CETUSA).
CETUSA coordinator, Heidi Overson, approached the Williamsons before the start of the 2016-2017 school year about the possibility of them becoming a host family for a foreign exchange student. Overson had a South Korean boy on her list of students available and immediately thought the boy would be a perfect fit in their Williamson family.
The Williamson’s said Jeong was hard to understand for a couple of weeks, and it was different having a teenager in the house after being empty nesters for awhile, but, now that he’s gone, Renita said it’s hard adjusting to the emptiness he left behind.
“He was like a son to us,” Renita said.
When Jeong arrived last August he immediately began making friends with his new junior classmates at Westby Area High School. He made the academic honor roll, was on the JV boys basketball team, traveled to Chicago with Renita, and enjoyed skiing at Mt. La Crosse with friends.
“I had the best host family and best coordinator than any of my other friends did,” Jeong said, “I was really, really lucky and I never really became homesick.”
Jeong is an only child, and his parents are in business. He wanted to travel to the United States to improve his English-speaking skills, a task he struggled with due to the slang people use speaking in America.
He said American schools are much more liberal than Korean schools and he found it interesting you can own a gun in America, something you can’t do in South Korea.
There was never a shortage of laughter in the Williamson house while Jeong was living with them. He loved to tease his host family and Renita and Ray would give it right back to him.
Jeong taught his host family about Korean food. They enjoyed cooking meals together and rice quickly became a staple in the Williamson’s diet. Being placed in Wisconsin, Jeong quickly fell in love with cheese, plus pizza, spaghetti and steak. Culvers also topped his list of favorite dining out experiences.
Now back home in South Korea, Jeong will finish high school and has plans to attend college in America. He hopes to stay in touch with the Williamson family and maybe even visit them when he returns.
Overson, from Coon Valley, loves her job and finds it rewarding meeting and developing a relationship with the students from all over the world. She became the Wisconsin and Minnesota CETUSA Regional Director in 2016 and since last summer, she has placed 13 students, between 15-18 years old, from South Korea, Germany, Italy, China, Brazil, Norway, Denmark, Spain, Thailand, Vietnam and
CETUSA (Council for Educational Travel USA) is a non-profit, international student placement program that has been placing quality students into loving, quality host homes for 22 years. Each exchange student brings their own spending money to pay for all their school-related costs, school lunches, entertainment, clothes, shoes, toiletries. They also provide their own health insurance.
“All the host family provides is a good home, love, rides when needed, and three good meals a day,” Overson said.