Like many parents, Ida-Jo Sudano struggles to get her teenager to clean his room. But Eric Oh, the 16-year-old international student living in her Colonie home, has a good excuse: Back home in Korea, adults take care of chores to allow kids ample time for schoolwork.
"Students in Korea are really dedicated to studying," Eric explained. "Here, it's just peaceful. They talk about basketball, football and sports things."
Eric is one of four new international students at Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons School in Schenectady, which has welcomed a handful of students from around the world in the past two decades.
Mrs. Sudano was inspired when her sister decided to host one of the students, so she followed suit, inviting Eric to live with her, her husband and their two-year-old son, Antonio.
"It's an amazing experience," she said.
Viewing her hosting duties as practice for parenting a teenager, Mrs. Sudano eventually began asking Eric to clean his dishes and bedroom. She worried when he simply left a note the night he slept over at a friend's house: "There's sometimes a blurred line there," she remarked. "It's been very interesting."
Eric was accustomed to taking buses and subways in his hometown of Seoul, so he may forget that, in America, he needs to rely on adults with busy schedules for rides. Early in the school year, he joined the track team without asking permission, forgetting that Mrs. Sudano would need to pick him up at night. (He later joined an indoor soccer club and secured rides from the coach.)
Eric said he came to America for a break from the competitive nature of Korean schools, where students often vie for rankings. He also sought more time for soccer; the school day in Korea often lasts until 10 p.m. to include study time.
He and Mrs. Sudano, an elementary schoolteacher, often discuss the differences in the educational systems in America and Korea. "He's very surprised at how many breaks and days off we have," she said.
Eric entered ND-BG as a freshman and quickly advanced to the sophomore level. He will return to Korea for the summer and come back to America next fall. He hopes to attend an American college.
"It's been great," he said of the American experience and his hosts. "They always try to be nice to me. And they are Italian and they cook fantastic," he added, although he does shop at an Asian market when he tires of seafood and pasta.
Eric has made friends, formed a rock band and joined the Sudanos' gym. "At first, I thought we would have to entertain Eric, but he keeps to himself," Mrs. Sudano said.
Still, "I feel like he's a member of the family," she said. Eric pushes Antonio's stroller when he accompanies Mrs. Sudano to the grocery store and visits her family every Sunday. "My son loves him, like, unbelievably. He's going to be heartbroken when Eric leaves."
At Christmas, Eric read a speech of gratitude to the family. Mrs. Sudano recalled one line: "When he's a professional soccer player, [he said] he'll pay us back by buying us a house or a sports car."
Eric said he misses his parents and talks with them via Skype a few times a week. He said his stay in America has taught him "how my real mom and daddy were dedicated to me. I did not realize how much they did for me. I can now realize that, living without them."