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Shaking Hands with Japan

Hana McNierney

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Host families and exchange students were able to meet many new friends thanks to the Santa Clara Sister Cities program, an international program that creates ties between cities around the world. The exchange took place over the span of six days, lasting from Saturday, January 20 to Thursday, January 25, and allowed sixteen students from Izumo, Japan to homestay at the houses of people in Santa Clara.
Both host families and exchange students believe that it is not difficult to overcome the differences between two very different cultures. Vice president of the Santa Clara Sister Cities program, Patricia Knowles, definitely agrees with the latter, stating, “The mission of the Santa Clara Sister Cities Association is to bring different cultures together through people to create relationships.” Thanks to the program, many students are given the opportunity to broaden their view to outside their own country. Through living in the same house together for six days, the American host families and Japanese exchange students learn to understand each other. Although the many activities and events are fun, there are also many lessons learned in the experience. Knowles further states, “Our objectives are to enrich the lives of our students and residents of the City of Santa Clara through cultural exchanges, building strong leadership skills among our Sister Cities Youth Commissioners and enhancing good will and global understanding.”
Over six-day period, there were many activities for the Japanese exchange students to do to make the most of their visit both with and without their host families. From going to San Francisco and eating clam chowder at Boudin’s to simply walking to Safeway, the exchange students were fascinated by every cultural difference. Izumo High School junior, Kaede Shimizu described, “I thought that the number of foreigners is bigger than Japan, so their sense of values for living alongside one another is great.” As Shimizu explained, there is not an abundant number of foreigners from where she is from. After spending a few days in Silicon Valley and meeting new people every day, Shimizu expressed her wishes of having more foreigners come live in Japan. One of her goals in America was to speak with more people, and she commented on how Americans were friendly and eager to converse.
Wilcox junior Kiana Wong is a strongly devoted member of Santa Clara Sister Cities, and this was her fourth hosting experience. Izumo students were in agreement when Wong expresses, “For the students, they get an experience of a lifetime. They get to see what goes on in an everyday American teenager´s life, and for those who actually want to go abroad and study in America for college, they meet with other Japanese students who attend college in America.” As schools in Japan have completely different rules and expectations, Izumo students stated how attending American high schools for a few days was an eye-opening experience.
Can you imagine sitting quietly in a classroom, and only asking questions when the teacher allows it? Can you imagine staying at school for twelve hours? According to the exchange students, that is exactly what school life means for most of the Izumo students. Here at Wilcox, one of the things the exchange students commented most about was the freedom given in classes. They noticed how Wilcox students interacted with one another, and openly asked questions to teachers when they did not understand something. The Izumo highschoolers admired the classroom dynamic, and found it very different from Japan. Even the smallest things fascinated these students, and the list ranges from larger food portions, to more subtle elements such as wearing non-uniform clothes to school.

COURTESY OF Hana McNierney
Wilcox freshmen welcome Japanese exchange student, Kaede Shimizu.

Interested in hosting? The next Santa Clara Sister Cities’ exchanges are with Coimbra, Portugal (March 16 to March 24) and Izumo, Japan (March 27 to April 2). Those eager to meet new friends, and experience a new culture, contact [email protected] Although it is always lonely when it is time for the exchange students to leave, Wong explains, “The exchange has to end at one point and the students have to go home, that is 5,000 miles away and you don´t know when you can physically see them again, but that friendship and kinship stays there forever.”

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The student news site of Adrian Wilcox High School in Santa Clara, California
Shaking Hands with Japan