Sunnyvale-Iizuka Student Friendship Blossoms through Cultural Exchange Program

Sunnyvale Middle School has been an active participant in a cultural exchange program through Sunnyvale Sister City Association. Six students from Sunnyvale Middle School went to Iizuka, Japan, June 18-24, along with one student from Fremont High School and one from Homestead High School. This was the second exchange trip Sunnyvale Middle School students made to Japan. Sunnyvale students visited Iizuka schools with their host families’ children and sat in the same classes with them.

Our students were immersed in Japanese culture as they visited local historical destinations and spent time with their host families. Despite the language barrier between Sunnyvale students and Iizuka students, they have become friends during their short visit and many continue to keep in touch through e-mails and Skype.

Sunnyvale students with their chaperones, Ms Sheila McKell and Mrs. Susie Smare, June 2015.
Sunnyvale students with their chaperones, Ms Sheila McKell and Mrs. Susie Smare, June 2015.

In August, Sunnyvale Middle School and SSCA welcomed 20 middle school students from Iizuka. The students and their chaperones spent two days touring San Francisco, before meeting and joining their host families on August 21. Part of their itinerary included a visit to Stanford University, HP Garage, and Google. Host families took their Iizuka students all over the Bay Area between August 21 and August 26.

When the students met their host families in person for the first time, they were a bit quiet and shy. In a few short days, however, children of the Sunnyvale host families and their Japanese visitors connected through activities they shared as a family, touring in Sunnyvale as well as Palo Alto, Santa Cruz, Monterey, and Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, through time spent in Sunnyvale Middle School classrooms, and common interests in video games and anime movies.

SSCA hosted a farewell BBQ for everyone at Ortega Park evening of August 25. Both Sunnyvale and Iizuka students had enjoyed various ball games before representatives from Iizuka, SSCA, and Sunnyvale Middle School addressed the group, followed by a delicious BBQ dinner. Those who spoke included Nobuhiro Watanabe, Vice Consul General of San Francisco; Nabil Shahin, Principal of Sunnyvale Middle School;  Sheila McKell, chaperone and teacher at Sunnyvale Middle School; Mamoru Uryu, Education Director at Iizuka Board of Education; and Nanaka Tsuchiya, 8th Grade student at Iizuka Nisshinkan Junior High School.

 

Morning of goodbyes, at SMS, August 26.
Morning of goodbyes, at SMS, August 26.

Host families brought their Iizuka students back to Sunnyvale Middle School the morning of August 26, where they said their goodbyes, exchanged hugs and well wishes, and sent the Iizuka students and their chaperones on the chartered bus, taking them to the airport. While this was the end of a visit between Iizuka students and Sunnyvale students, it was the beginning of friendships between them, possibly for years to come.

A two-time host family mom summed it up nicely. After spending five days hosting their Iizuka student, Leslie Becker wrote about sending the Iizuka students on their bus to the airport, “as the bus drove away, tears flowed demonstrating the impact this program had on all involved!” Read more from other host families, Iizuka students, Sunnyvale students, and chaperones one the SSCA website, www.sunnyvalesistercity.org.

CMS students help plant four cherry trees donated by the Sunnyvale Sister City Association. The trees symbolize the lasting friendship between Sunnyvale and Iizuka, Japan.
CMS students help plant four cherry trees donated by the Sunnyvale Sister City Association. The trees symbolize the lasting friendship between Sunnyvale and Iizuka, Japan.

In an invitation to Columbia Middle School students to participate in the program next year, the Sunnyvale Sister City Association donated four cherry trees to be planted on the campus. The group held a tree planting ceremony Aug. 24 attended by Mamoru Uryu, Iizuka City Educational Director; Maiko Tamagawa, Consulate General of Japan in San Francisco; SSD Superintendent Benjamin Picard; Mary-Beth Allman, Columbia Middle School principal; and Jim Davis, Sunnyvale City Councilman.

SSCA is expanding its programs this year to include a robotics class for middle school students in Sunnyvale. Iizuka is the home of one of the Kyushu Institute of Technology’s campuses which is nationally recognized for its robotics program. Three students from Kyutech will visit Sunnyvale Middle School and teach a weekend-long crash course in practical robotics, September 11-13. If you are interested in hosting, please e-mailrobot2015@sunnyvalesistercity.org for more information.

Contributors: Nina Wong-Dobkin and Alia Wilson

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