Travelers from RUHS to Japan Appreciate Community Support

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Communities / Jan. 3, 2013 10:31am EST


Pictured (back row. l-r) chaperone Heather Dunn, Cecile Smith, Erin Beidler, Morgan Conant, and chaperone Deb Lary; and (front row, l-r) Hannah Johnson, Abby Zani, Katlin Klovdahl, Jacob Kaplan, Josh Huffman, Kate Conard, Kimberly Buckholts, and Mikaela Farmer. The kimonos some of the girls are wearing belong to their host families, are worth thousands of dollars, and have been handed down through generations. (Provided) Pictured (back row. l-r) chaperone Heather Dunn, Cecile Smith, Erin Beidler, Morgan Conant, and chaperone Deb Lary; and (front row, l-r) Hannah Johnson, Abby Zani, Katlin Klovdahl, Jacob Kaplan, Josh Huffman, Kate Conard, Kimberly Buckholts, and Mikaela Farmer. The kimonos some of the girls are wearing belong to their host families, are worth thousands of dollars, and have been handed down through generations. (Provided) Last June, Randolph sent 11 students to Shizukuishi, Japan for a two-week exchange trip.

For the last 21 years, Shizukuishi has sent students to the Randolph community each January, and for the past 12 years, Randolph has sent students to their community about every other year. Intense fundraising the spring before the students travel to Japan pays for the trip.

Through the hard work of the students and their families, the travelers raised over $30,000 in three months time. This would not have been possible without the extraordinary support from the community for this program. As thanks to the community, the students wanted to share experiences from their trip.

Several Randolph students stayed with the families of the Shizukuishi students who were hosted at their homes in the Randolph area, so for some, it was a true exchange. This was a lifechanging trip for the students. All the students found Tokyo to be exciting and fun, but they felt the most memorable experience was staying with their host families.

“I loved walking to school every morning with my host sister and attending her brass band rehearsals,” Cecile Smith said.

Mikaela Farmer said she “felt like she had really become part of another family. Even after staying in a house with people who really didn’t know what I was saying for a week, I could still make such an emotional connection with them.”

“At first, it was awkward not being able to communicate, but it got easier and easier as time flew by,” Kaitlin Klovdahl continued. “When it was time to go, you realize that you’ve made a friendship that will last forever, even though you’ve only stayed with them for a week.”

What were some lessons learned from this experience?

“Be willing to try new things, because you never know what the outcome will be,” said Josh Huffman.

“Don’t be nervous or shy, because there are only so many times that you will get experiences like these,” Mikaela observed. “So, take advantage of them, don’t hold back, and don’t forget to have fun. I learned that I was much stronger and more independent than I had thought. I felt like I was on my own to make my own way and decisions, so this was a test for me to see what I could really handle. After this, I wonder, is there anything that I really can’t handle?”

Abby Zani noted that, “I learned that I really love to travel, and that I really don’t know very much at all about other cultures, and I hope to change that by doing more traveling.”

While there, the students where taken on a field trip to the area destroyed by the tsunami. It is in the same prefecture as Shizukuishi, but it was a threehour drive to get there.

“It was very devastating,” Josh remarked. “Knowing that the place was a peaceful town and seeing it washed away, gone, it was very sad.”

Abby said, “The tsunami region was incredible. At first I was thinking it was going to be sort of like Irene, only worse. But, when we got there, there was nothing. It was hard to think that people had once lived there, because there literally was nothing but wreckage.”

It was also an amazing experience for the families of the travelers. Through the many fundraisers, the parents really got to know each other. While waving goodbye at the bus station, all were worried about sending the children so far away and thinking about all the horrors that could befall them. Second-guessing the decision to allow them to go to a place that experiences earthquakes, tsunamis, and nuclear meltdowns. For two weeks, constantly checking facebook to know that the kids were indeed fine and having the time of their lives.

The students are truly thankful to the community for helping them to experience this amazing exchange.

“I learned to embrace drastically different cultures,” Kaitlin said. “As you grow up, so many new things will be thrown at you, and you have to learn to accept that. Being in a foreign country for only two weeks was definitely an eye opener. Growing up in Vermont is so different from how kids grow up in Japan.”

“I also was able to see another side of living,” Mikaela added, “and I saw that the ways we are used to aren’t the only ones out there.”

Jacob said he felt, “It’s good to be able to say ‘I have my views on this and they have their views on that,’ but we can always become friends and learn about each other.”

This month, Randolph will again host students from Shizukuishi, Japan. They will arrive on Sunday, Jan. 6 and depart Sunday, Jan. 13. The community is invited to meet them at a potluck dinner Tuesday, Jan. 8 from 6-7:30 p.m. at the Randolph Union High School cafeteria.

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