Fifty years ago, Mary Elizabeth Patterson worked for the Red Cross at the Hamilton Air Force Base. The Red Cross asked her family to host an 18-year-old South Korean exchange student interested in becoming a diplomat and learning about American culture. Patterson knew she would embrace this exchange student as part of her own family and thought it would be a wonderful experience for her son, who was 17 at the time.
That kind jesture had quite an impact not only on her son but on her own life. Today, this spry nonagenarian, lovingly known as Libba, is an inspirational speaker. She maintained a relationship with the South Korean exchange student long after he packed his bags and headed off to meet John F. Kennedy. Libba even visited him in South Korea when she was 88, and he visited Novato in 2007.
This is why Libba energetically jumped at the opportunity to speak to the 55 students while they were hosting five of the 30 Korean exchange students visiting Novato for three weeks at their campus.
Could she once again inspire a student to fulfill their dreams and share her culture? She did such a great job the 50 years ago, with the exchange student who fulfilled his dream and is now the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon.
Libba, a former sixth-grade teacher with beautiful clear, blue eyes, was at ease talking to the students about a wide variety of subjects. Her speech was so engaging you could hear a pin drop during her 25-minute presentation.
There were so many lessons to learn from Libba. What did I take away from this experience?
You never know what little thing will impact your life.
Speak up, because everything you say is important.
Love everyone the same.
Work hard and you will reap the benefits. Students are our future.
You can overcome life’s disabilities.
Even in your 90s you can be young at heart.
After Libba’s presentation, I visited with the five South Korean middle school students whose three-week visit in Novato is almost over. What Bay Area experiences will the students take back with them and cherish for years? The students mention, in English, new Facebook friends, the beauty of the redwood trees, walking on the Golden Gate Bridge and chocolate. What will these South Korean students, Good Shepherd students and host families remember 50 years later?
The exchange program was arranged by the Univest Foreign Exchange Academy. The South Korean students have been attending the Good Shepherd Lutheran School and the . This is the first year these Novato schools have participated in this program.
The students will be leaving Novato on Jan. 30 and traveling to Boston for six days before they return to South Korea with some life-long memories.