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Aug 02

Menlo Park students return from cultural exchange trip to Bizen, Japan

Posted on August 2, 2016 at 7:33 am by Clay Curtin

A group of Menlo Park students recently returned from a cultural exchange trip to Menlo Park’s friendship city, Bizen, Japan. The 10 students and 3 chaperones spent one week in Japan. 

The cultural exchange is the cornerstone of the Menlo Park-Bizen friendship city relationship, which began in January 2015. The program is composed of reciprocal exchanges every two years. In 2015, a group of Bizen students and chaperones visited Menlo Park and stayed with host families. This year Menlo Park students traveled to Bizen, which is located in south Japan. The American students were matched with Japanese host families for a full Japanese-immersion experience.

“I love the grandmother of my host family! I had a fantastic time!” said student Nina Rose.
The Menlo Park cohort departed San Francisco International airport Saturday, July 9, for Bizen and completed their trip Sunday, July 17. During the trip, the students lived with Bizen families and experienced many of the wonderful things their community offers: a Japanese tea ceremony, clay modeling class with a Bizen-yaki master sculptor, origami class, kimono dress and etiquette class and visit to two working middle schools where the students played games and attended a cooking class with Japanese students. Some of the Japanese students were part of the group that visited Menlo Park the year before. In addition, the group had a welcoming ceremony with the City Council, a visit to the Shizutani School, Japan’s first public school dating back to the 17th century, and a day trip to Hiroshima to visit with a son of two survivors.

To be eligible for the program, students had to be Menlo Park residents and each submitted an essay on how visiting Japan would affect their lives. This year every child who applied was able to participate. Local schools represented included Menlo-Atherton High School, Hillview Middle School, Nueva School, La Entrada Middle School and the Belle Haven School.

“Although this exchange is structured as a cultural exchange immersion program—rather than a summer vacation—the students told me they had the time of their lives,” said Councilmember Catherine Carlton. 

Next summer, 10 students from Bizen will visit Menlo Park and a Menlo Park contingent will return to Japan in 2018. “I’m delighted that this is a new tradition of cultural exchange for Menlo Park students,” said Carlton.

“The people of Bizen opened their homes and hearts to the people of Menlo Park. We look forward to extending the same warmth and hospitality to them next year,” said Kristy Holch, chair of Menlo Park’s Sister City Committee.

Visit the city website for more information about Menlo Park's Sister City program.

Japan Trip Kimonos
Kumali and Sohalia SchoenRicky Bjerknes - Alex Wire - Javier Ramos
Tricia Teason and daughter Anna PaczuskiViolet Taylor
Bizen Volunteers and Host Families with Menlo Park Group
Source: Catherine Carlton