2009-04-08 / Family

"Home" work halfway around the world

By Gwen Sadler

"Home" work halfway around the world

Page Dowdy/Chesterfield Observer Shotaro Komiya and his fellow exchange students line up to greet Clover Hill High School students.
A group of teens from Saitama Urawa Municipal High School in Saitama, Japan, recently traveled all the way to Midlothian to do some "home" work - learning about American culture while living in the homes of Clover Hill High School students.

Saitama is a sister city of Richmond, and the whole metro area takes part in that honor. The sister-city people exchange began with little league teams, and evolved in the late 1990s to include teachers and students, according to Clover Hill High School science teacher and Japanese club sponsor David Tuskey.

After touring a number of area schools, Japanese officials chose Clover Hill for their student exchange.

"They sensed the enthusiasm, energy and friendliness of the students and teachers," said Tuskey. "We have a nice cross-section of the county here."

Eight Saitama students - Yumika Katsuyama, Haruna Kazumoto, Shotaro Komiya (the only young man in the group), Rina Nakashima, Yuka Ohashi, Nensen Ra, Tomomi Saito and Miho Takeuchi - along with two of their teachers, Hiroyuki Tamura and Kiozumi Hamano - arrived at Clover Hill High School late last month for a whirlwind 10 days' stay in the U.S. They were sponsored and housed by members of the school's Japanese club, including its president, Sara Bachouros, as well as Josh Clinton, Katy Combs, Catherine Faszewski, Codie Frank, Michael Fuller, Brittany Gater, Emily Kvetko, Taylor Mahaley and Asya Simons.

Page Dowdy/Chesterfield Observer Clover Hill High senior Katy Combs welcomes exchange student Nensen Ra as she arrives at the school. Ra stayed with Combs' family during her visit here.
Even after traveling all that way, the students didn't let any moss grow. They visited the University of Richmond for a special dinner and made a daytrip to Colonial Williamsburg. While out that way, they stopped by Busch Gardens for a little fun with an international streak. After leaving Midlothian, they traveled to Washington, D.C., for some sightseeing at the White House, Arlington Cemetery, the Lincoln Memorial, museums of the Smithsonian and Georgetown.

But while they were here, they spent several days and nights with their host families, eating what their hosts eat and doing what they do, and they attended three days of classes at Clover Hill.

While there are some things common to the U.S. and Japan - Saito mentioned McDonald's and 7-Eleven stores, while Komiya noted that people are kind in both countries - there are significant differences, according to these kids.

"Roads [in Japan] are narrow," said Katsuyama. "Here, roads [are] wide. In Japan, only one, two lanes."

Also, she said, American food is too sweet.

Students' behavior was somewhat surprising to the visitors. "They kiss here in [the] corridors," said Komiya, with a shake of his head and a grin.

"In school in Japan, in class, most students listen to [the] teacher," said Saito. "Here, some eat or drink or do homework."

"American students are active in class," Katsuyama agreed, "but also very friendly and kind to strangers."

All the students shared her opinion of the welcoming nature of the Clover Hill students and staff, and believe that being here is helping them improve their English. The Clover Hill students also appreciate being able to practice their Japanese with the exchange students.

Most of the Japanese club members will visit Saitama for about a week and a half in June, visiting with families there. They'll spend three days in Tokyo sightseeing and visit Nikko, where they'll see a famous Shogun's tomb.

While the second-year (of three) Saitama high school students won't be able to return with the student-exchange program, all of them hope to come back to the U.S. in the future.

And all will be welcomed.

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