We recently sat down with Paul Rhee, Director of SVC International, the organization which administers the international student program at Saddleback Valley Christian School. This program, which is widely considered one of the best of its kind in South Orange County, has been an integral part of our school since 2005.
SVC: Why does SVC International exist?
Mr. Rhee: We live in a global world and this program affords us a tremendous opportunity to reach out to a global community without ever having to travel. The Lord has brought the mission field to us. We get to minister to people from different cultures, share with them Who God is, and expose them to the Christian message — which is so unique and important. Many of our international students never opened a Bible prior to coming here.
Beyond this, our mission is to empower our international students to achieve their highest potential. We attain this goal through the dedication of our staff, commitment of our teachers, and conviction in our Christian faith.
SVC: Why do families from other countries want their children to study in the United States rather than at home?
Mr. Rhee: An American college education is highly coveted internationally. It is widely regarded as superior to what the large majority of students have access to in their native lands. International parents recognize that an education at a Top 50 university in the United States is a ticket to a better life for their children. And one of the best paths for gaining acceptance to top American colleges is through a rigorous American high school education.
SVC: What to you think makes SVC such an attractive place for parents to send their children?
Mr. Rhee: Most international programs offer outstanding academics — SVC is no exception. But when a parent sends a child across the globe, he/she also want to feel confident that the child is going to be well cared for. Our international program seeks to ensure a quality experience in a warm and loving environment because we understanding the estrangement of a new culture, unusual customs, foreign language, and social challenges.
SVC is a safe environment where our international students can explore who they are — who God created them to be. The high school student body at SVC extends itself. They, along with our faculty and administration, are ambassadors for Christ — reaching out to the international population, accepting them, and being authentic with them. The love for God and for others is very attractive to our international students.
With all of this as a foundation, our international students are set up for maximum success.
SVC: Speaking of success, what type of outcomes do you typically see for our international students, post-SVC?
Mr. Rhee: Our international students leave well-equipped for high-level academic performance — many of our graduates enter into the college of their choice. In fact, 100% of our graduates are accepted to four-year universities. Most ultimately choose to enter one of the top colleges and universities within the United States, rather than returning home to continue their education.
SVC: Beyond academics, do you see international students getting involved in other parts of campus life?
Mr. Rhee: Yes! They appreciate the opportunity to take part in activities which are aligned with their interests, whether that is in athletics, fine arts, student government, clubs, or scholarly groups like National Honor Society. These types of opportunities are generally unavailable to them in their native schools.
SVC: You mentioned that the SVC student body does a great job of reaching out to their international peers. Do you provide opportunities for international students to extend themselves to their American peers? And what about within the local community?
Mr. Rhee: Once each year, we host an international food faire on campus. This has become a real favorite for our high school. International students bring dishes from their homelands and sell them during lunch. The entire student body gets to experience a literal taste of other countries and gain a better understanding of an important part of international culture. SVC International also sponsors a schoolwide food drive each year. This allows our international students to engage our entire student body in an outreach activity which extends into our local community. The funds generated by the food faire and the items collected during the food drive are donated to Family Assistance Ministries (FAM), a faith-based organization in Orange County.
International students also serve each month at Mercy Warehouse, sifting through and sorting the donated items which are sold in their thrift store. Mrs. Lancer, Counselor of International Student Service, accompanies them and does a remarkable job of facilitating conversations about why we are called to serve. Of course, she uses the opportunity to share that Jesus, Himself, was the servant King. Perhaps the most profound part of this experience is that students actually get to interact with the people who are receiving help from Mercy Warehouse.
SVC: Over the years, you’ve had hundreds of international students come through your program. You must have some incredible stories about what God has done during that time. As we close, will you please share one of your favorites?
Mr. Rhee: Well let me start by saying that lives ARE transformed at SVC. Each year, students hear the Christian message … they’re influenced by students and staff … they learn to serve. The greatest blessing of all is when this experience ultimately leads to a profession of faith in Christ. We rejoice, with the angels, each time a child’s name is written in Lamb’s Book of Life. In God’s economy, every conversion is equally miraculous. But in man’s economy, some conversions just “seem” more monumental than others — one of those is the story of Arthur.
Arthur’s parents sent him to SVC as a last resort. They told him, in no uncertain terms, that if he didn’t get a proper education in America, he would be a “lost cause” in Taiwan. Not surprisingly, when Arthur arrived here, he had a very poor attitude. He had no interest in his school work and no interest in anything having to do with Christian community. He spent a lot of time in my office because he was uncooperative and difficult — not just with his teachers, but with other students and his host family. But God never gave up on Arthur; nor did anyone at SVC. Before he left our school, Arthur was inducted into the National Honor Society. He was elected to the Homecoming Court. And he graduated as Valedictorian of his class. Arthur went on to attend a Azusa Pacific University, a Christian university, where he helped establish the school’s international chapel. He earned a degree in international business and currently serves in management at an international trade corporation. He is now a husband and a father, and is leading his family in service to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Transformation … it is very real at Saddleback Valley Christian.
Paul Rhee has been serving in the educational industry for over 20 years as a teacher, professor and administrator in the secondary and post-secondary schools. Holding two Masters degrees in Theology (one from Princeton and one from Southwestern Theological Seminary), he has a strong affinity for educating the whole person – mind, heart and soul. He believes that a Christian education provides a safe and robust environment for international students to explore, learn and reach their highest potential.
Over the past 14 years, as founder and director of the International Programs at SVC, Mr. Rhee has empowered hundreds of international students to successfully complete their education and enter into the top colleges and universities in the U.S.
In addition to his graduate degrees, Mr. Rhee holds a B.A. in Business Administration (minor in Economics) from George Washington University.