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Korean Prime Minister Visits Students at Harlem's Democracy Prep

By Jeff Mays | December 4, 2012 9:29am

HARLEM — Just weeks after a group of Democracy Prep students returned from a two-week visit to his country, Korean Prime Minister Kim Hwang-sik returned the favor and visited students at the Harlem school Monday.

"Study hard, go to college and change the world," Kim said through a translator. The phrase is Democracy Prep's theme.

The school's educational plan is based on the Korean educational system which values intensive study and hard work. Every high school student at the school is required to study Korean. Last month, 37 Democracy Prep students traveled to Korea.

Kim exchanged gifts with the students and sat in on a Korean language class with the kids that traveled to Korea during his hour-long visit. He left a gift of several Samsung printers for the  school's classrooms.

Democracy Prep founder and superintendent Seth Andrew said students were excited when they learned about the surprise visit. Kim read about the student's visit to Korea and decided that he wanted to visit the school.

"it's amazing that the prime minister wanted to stop by this little public school in Harlem because he read about us in a paper halfway around the world," said Andrew. "The students, like the staff, were honored."

Victoria Rodriguez, 15, a 10th-grader at the school, was more than honored, she was thrilled. Rodriguez says that she remains changed by her visit to Korea. She was impressed by how advanced the technology was.

She now find herself more concerned about recycling because of the emphasis on recycling that she saw in Korea.

And after staying with a host family that was very generous despite the fact that they did not have much, Rodriguez said she finds herself more appreciative of the opportunities she has here.

"I came back with a new mindset to be appreciative of the things I have here, like not complaining about going to an extra study class," she said. "I'm telling my mother I love her more."

Jayleen Paula, 15, another 10th-grader who traveled to Korea, also enjoyed the visit.

"I was so surprised that the prime minister would visit us. It felt surreal in Korea and even more surreal here," said Paula.

Rodriguez was one of a few students who gave presentations in Korean for Kim. He wanted to know what the students learned from their visit to his country.

"The U.S. and Korea are al in this together. We have history and are growing," Rodriguez said after her speech.