The Game of Life
Vivian Park is breathing easier these days.
The recent Seoul American High School graduate was recently accepted to the University of California at Irvine, where she will study global cultures, with the ultimate aim of getting a master’s degree in education and teaching in developing countries.
“My school counselors told me not to be afraid of making big choices and big decisions. They taught me to take small steps to my big dream,” she said.
Some seniors at base high schools across the Pacific are not as fortunate, and are still waiting to learn their fate. As for juniors, many are already starting the process, which for Vivian got kick-started by two key people in her life.
“My parents encouraged me to keep looking for colleges and scholarships. Many times we looked together,” she said, recalling how she started to talk with them seriously about what to do, where to go and how to pay for it.
She received a lot of practical assistance from her school counselors, who advised her which classes to choose and how to find colleges that offered the education which would help her fulfill her goals.
“They go to each class and explain the application system. We could talk to them in the halls as well as at their offices,” she said. “In my junior year, they held assemblies telling us what to expect in our senior year. We got a lot of advice on SATs and they kept reminding us through emails about things like financial aid.”
Moms, dads and DODEA
Educators across the Pacific agree that a teenager needs assistance in the college search.
“Parents (must) be involved in the process,” said Michael Monahan, a counselor at Yokota Middle School in Japan. Monahan said the process begins even before kids decide to go to college.
“Parents know their child better than anybody. They should encourage their kids to look into all the courses DODEA (Department of Defense Educational Activity) schools offer,” he said. “Their children may appear to be little adults, but they are not. They need support and direction from home.”
Many students are unsure about what road to follow, however, and this can stop them from acting. DODEA schools aim to prevent this by offering individual counseling to both students and parents from the first year of middle school on.
“We try to be accessible because kids sometimes don’t know what to ask, so they don’t,” said Lakisha Hudson, a school counselor at Seoul that different schools require different classes. We also call them in one by one as juniors and seniors, and make them feel they are all in the top 5 (of their class).”
Monahan said counselors can assist students and parents draft a six-year plan, setting a direction for their courses. He said DODEA also offers Encore classes in nonacademic fields like art, shop and computer to offer kids the chance to learn a different set of skills.
In high school, counselors talk to students about classes and volunteer activities that will make them more attractive to colleges. They also provide information about university websites and get kids to walk parents through them, so everyone gets involved.
University not the only road
Counselors also go to the classroom to talk about options outside college.
“It’s a myth that everyone should go to college, but it’s not necessary that everyone should go,” said Mike Wagner, a teacher at Yokota High School.
“(Counselors) talk about four–year universities, two-year colleges, vocational tech-type training schools, the military and going directly into the work force,” said Jewel Vessell, a senior counselor at Kadena High School on Okinawa.
“To help them decide, we have them look at the Career One-Stop website of the Department of Labor,” she said. The site offers information about occupations, the training needed for them, the projected future of the jobs, and employment opportunities for them in each state.
Recent Yokota High School graduate Jennifer Madamba isn’t quite sure what field she wants to go into, but she does want a higher education.
“I want to get my associate’s degree first, until I find out what I really want to do,” said Jennifer, who will be studying business at Northwest Florida Community College. “My dad says he doesn’t care what I do as long as I feel happy going to work.”
Finding the best fit
If you do decide to go to college, which of the several thousand institutions of higher learning in the U.S. would be right for you? It’s a tough decision, but one that can be made by weighing all the options.
“There’s a college somewhere for every student, a degree for every passion,” said Wagner. “College is an opportunity to learn what your passion is.”
Rachel Bloom, a recent graduate at Yokota, has one of those passions. She will study language arts and drama at Texas State University in San Marcos.
“I met someone who went to Texas State at a college fair at Yokota,” said Rachel, who at one time considered the University of Texas in Austin because she has family there.
While she liked Texas State because it has a good drama program, she also took a look at herself and decided the school would be a good fit for another reason.
“UT is very, very big, but I went to a small high school, so I didn’t think it would work out very well,” she said.
She was also disposed toward a school in Texas, according to her father, Edmund Bloom, because as far back as 1998 the family had invested in the Texas state tuition program, which guaranteed in-state tuition for her.
Outside activities also important
“Life is not only about academics. Universities look at the whole person to know what kind of kid they are dealing with,” said Seoul American High School counselor Rydell Wilkins. “We want them to be well-rounded people, so we recommend students do something to help them be more social.”
But students should be careful. “Don’t put things on your Facebook page that would hurt you,” Wilkins said. “It may not portray who you really are.”
Moving to U.S. may cause culture shock
After living on a military base for several years, Yokota Anthony Sahady is somewhat nervous about confronting the outside world.
“I feel like I’m going to be like a country boy in a big city,” the recent graduate said. “Living on a base, especially overseas, prevents you from fully comprehending how America works. People act so differently (in the U.S.) than they do here. Some people, when they go back to America, may be overwhelmed and find it hard to cope.”
Seoul American High School counselor Hudson agrees. “On the surface, students don’t see the gap between their lives and life in America. The Internet, movies, and TV connects them more than ever before, so they think (living on a base overseas) is exactly like being in the U.S. But it’s not, and they get culture shock when they go to America.”
To alleviate that strain, DODEA schools, “have people come in and speak about the reality of life in the States,” said David Young, a senior counselor at Kubasaki High School on Okinawa. “They need to be aware that life is different (in the U.S.) and that they should feel their way around first.”
Whichever path soon-to-be former high schoolers choose, whether college or not, one thing is certain: That “different” life is about to begin.
• Negotiate financial aid with colleges by citing help offered by other schools
• Check total cost of university attendance (including room and board, travel expenses, etc.), not just tuition
• Find in-state residency requirements for lower tuition, possibly investing in state programs guaranteeing tuition rates
• Consider going to a private university which, though more expensive, may grant more financial aid than a public school
What about financial aid?
One of the big topics you will have to consider when you plan for college is how you will pay for it.
In general, there are three types of financial aid available to supplement any funds you already have:
• Scholarships and grants – This is money you do not have to repay.
• Loans – These usually feature low interest rates and often do not charge interest while you are attending school.
• Work programs – Colleges frequently offer these types of programs, where you earn money at a part-time job while pursuing your studies.
Information on these types of financial aid is available from a wide variety of sources; examples are college catalogues, your school bulletin board, government and private programs listed on the internet, and the MyROAD computer program at your school.
Ask your guidance counselor where to find more information. FinAid provides comprehensive information about applying for financial aid for higher education.
(Source: DODEA website)