You could feel the excitement in the room as this year’s group of exchange students met on Wednesday evening for the first of five orientation meetings in preparation for their upcoming two-week stay in Edmonds’ sister city, Hekinan, Japan.
The group of students and parents heard information on a wide range of topics covering the important things to know and be aware of during the time the students will be in Japan. They will be in Hekinan between July 21 and August 4, the height of the notoriously muggy Japanese summer, so one piece of advice they heard is to leave the polar fleece behind!
Thirty-year Edmonds teacher Karyn Heinekin, one of two trip chaperones who will accompany the students, presented a wide array of useful information to help the students successfully navigate the local culture. Among other things, she stressed the importance of the Japanese tradition of gift-giving, providing hints as to when and how to offer and accept gifts.
“It’s the Japanese way of saying thank-you,” she said. “The gift can be as simple as a home-made origami crane. The important thing is that it comes from your heart.”
All the exchange students will be staying with host families, who will give them a first-hand appreciation of Japanese family life. Sister City Commissioners Michelle Van Tassel and Iyoko Okano provided hints and feedback gained from past exchange students to help this year’s group get the most value from this.
“You’ll be on the go constantly and seeing many things,” said Van Tassel, “but when past exchange students recall their peak experiences they all agree…the stops on the itinerary are secondary. The most lasting and valuable experiences by far are the relationships you form with your host families, many of which last a lifetime.”
Parent questions tended to the practical, focusing on such things as cell phone compatibility, health insurance transferability, cost of various items, passports, customs rules, flights and travel details.
But by and large, the parents were just as excited as the students. “This will be a great experience for my daughter Alex,” said her father, Lin Roch Bouah. “I’ve lived in many countries all over the world, and can’t overstress the importance of travel to learning and growing as a person. I only wish I could go with her!”
If, like Bouah, you’re wishing you could go too, here’s some good news: there’s still some slots open for students between the ages of 14 and 18. But you’ll have to act fast. Call Carolyn LaFavre at the City of Edmonds, 425-771-0247, for more information.
— Story and photos by Larry Vogel