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Chicago Shimpo
Visit of Students from Disaster Area Brings New Exchange with Lane Tech

Six students from Tagajo High School in Miyagi Prefecture visited Chicago from September 3 to 9 through the Tomodachi Initiative program, which has been operated by the US-Japan Council and the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo to support young people in the 2011 disaster area and foster friendships between the next generation of Japanese and American leaders. The Japan America Society of Chicago (JASC) hosted the students’ activities here in Chicago.

The students visited the University of Chicago, the Art Institute of Chicago, Omron, Molex, and stayed with their host families almost every night.
One of the highlights was their visit to Lane Tech College Prep high school where they experienced firsthand American school life. Their visit will bring a new exchange program between the two schools. The students of Lane Tech will have the opportunity to visit Tagajo H. S. next year to experience Japanese student life.

A farewell reception was held on September 7 at the Kirkland & Ellis in Chicago downtown, and students and faculty from Lane Tech, host families, and supporters joined it.

David Johnson, President of JASC, said that the real purpose of the Tomodachi exchange for Japanese students was to know more about the U.S., and for Americans to know more about Japanese people, and developing friendships and understandings were the most important part of the program.

Johnson, who lived in Japan for five years in his young days, said, “Those were some of the best days of my life, learning about the culture. I really hope that the experience you had being here in the U.S. has been interesting. Most importantly, I hope that you are able to take your experience back with you to Japan, able to remember the friends you met here, and think about how your life. You can have more international life.”

Consul General Naoki Ito said that the Tagajo students would have discovered the warm and welcoming nature of the Midwest’s hospitality. He also said that US-Japan alliance has become more important than ever in the uncertain and fragile global political climate; therefore, grass root exchanges were vital in maintaining and strengthening relationship between the two countries. “Your exchange is adding to the long history of our friendship,” he said.

Ito inspired the students from Tagajo and Lane Tech, saying, “The bonds you create during the exchange will surely leave lasting effects for years to come.”

Damir Ara, Assistant Principal, explained that his school, Lane Tech, was well known beyond the City of Chicago for its uniqueness and hard-working students. He encouraged Tagajo students to take their own ventures in Lane Tech to find excitement and interesting school life.

Ara had an opportunity to visit Japan two years ago and had positive experiences to see a very different culture.
In recent years, Lane Tech instituted an extensive Japanese language program and was selected for the exchange with Tagajo. Ara said that the development of the exchange program surpassed all his expectations and added, “I hope this tradition will continue for years to come.”

Kayoko Hachiya, English teacher at Tagajo H. S., said that her students experienced the American life style with their host families, learned about global perspectives of the Japanese business people at Molex and Omron, and hoped that the broadened perspectives of his students will influence their future.
During her stay in Chicago, a thought came to her mind. She said, “Relationships and kindness are invisible. Japan has been receiving a lot of supports from all over the world since the 2011 disaster. These are invisible, but have made a difference inspiring people, and they are forming visible results.”

Mitsukuni Baba, Executive Director of JASC, announced that there was a thank you letter to Lane Tech and JASC from Tagajo’s Principal Katsunori Sasaki. Hachiya read the letter to express his deep appreciation for the two organizations, which made it possible for the students to visit Chicago.

Students’ Presentation

Each Tagajo student made a power-point presentation about their school life and Japanese culture.

Meari Takiguchi spoke about the Student Council at Tagajo H. S.

When the 2011 earthquake occurred, she was 10 years old. “It was little snowy afternoon,” she recalled. When the quake hit the Tohoku area, she hid herself under her desk and was trembling.

All her family members survived, but some relatives, who lived near the ocean or rivers, died. Her family lived with emergency food and goods for several days. Recently, her family life has returned to normal level, and laughter of neighbors returned.

Her experience moved her to join the Student Council. They held workshops with other schools to discuss about preventive measures and precautionary methods to reduce damages. Tagajo was hit by an urban tsunami, which came from unpredictable directions due to big buildings in the city.

Regarding her future plans, she said that she wanted to become a tour conductor and live overseas for more than one year to study English.

Seia Hoshi spoke about her club activities, Momoko Chiba introduced Japanese traditional food, Sayaka Ogawa explained about the school’s annual events, Chihiro Shibsaki showed local traditional events, and Saya Kurobuchi talked about the fun of Japanese summer festivals.

Students’ Experiences

Seia Hoshi said, “I love to study English, but I cannot speak it fluently. My host family was very friendly and took care of me so well, so I was challenged to talk with them. I learned if I try to do it, I was able to communicate with them in English.”

Saya Kurobuchi spoke about her impression at the Art Institute saying, “I was really delighted by real paintings, which I only saw in our textbook. I was excited to see every detail of the paintings.”

She was lucky to have a host mother, who spoke some Japanese. “I was very comfortable with my host family because mother tried to find what I wanted to say when I was lost in our conversations.”

Meari Takiguchi said, “The most memorable thing was to spend almost all my days with my host family. They were so kind and their hospitality looked like the spirit of Japanese ‘omotenashi’ (hospitality). I talked about English words, pronunciations, and sports with them. I would never forget about them throughout my life.”

Damir Ara of Lane Tech (L), David Johnson of Japan America Society of Chicago (R2), Kayoko Hachiya of Tagajo High School, and the students fron Tagajo High School

Imagesfrom students' presentation