2012 Trip Diary

The following stories are the impressions, memories, and thoughts of the Ikata Junior High School students as well the chaperons of the 2012 Student Overseas Delegation to Red Wing.

All the lovely students, ready for the River City Days Parade!
Ikata Junior High School Vice-Principal
Ikata Junior High School English Teacher
Ikata Junior High School Student  "Memories from my Homestay"
Ikata Junior High School Student  "Thank You"
Ikata Junior High School Student  "To America for a Homestay"
Misaki Junior High School Student  "An Unforgettable Two Weeks"

The 16th Ikata Junior High School Student Overseas Delegation Report
"Red Wing, the New Town"

Ikata Middle School Vice Principal:  Mr. Miyazaki

            On the 1st of August, the 16th Ikata Junior High School Student Overseas Delegation to Red Wing departed from Ikata, crossed the International Date Line, and landed in the bright and shining city of Chicago. In spite of the 12 hour flight, one could easily tell by the liveliness of the students just how excited they all were that this brand-new experience was finally begining. The next day we went on a tour of Chicago. Downtown, being held between the Chicago River, looked like it came straight out of a postcard. When we visited the displays at the Art Institute, I was surprised at how close we could get to—and that I could have even reached out and touched—famous works by Monet, Picasso, and Gogh. We took a picture standing in front of a piece by Cezanne. I think it was en excellent experience particularly because we had previously introduced the pieces in class. 

              The day after, we headed on over to Minneapolis where we were greeted by the host families, finally getting under way with the homestay. The things that we did together as a group included participating in the River City Days parade, the Welcome Party, Tree-Planting Ceremony, Barn Bluff hike, as well as the Farewell Party on the last day. Other than that, the time in Red Wing was basically time for the students to spend with their host families. Unfortunately, in Chicago there were a few meals that didn’t quite agree with some of the students, so they were a bit worried when they headed to Red Wing. It went well though because they tried their best to at least try everything that was given to them and event to introduce some Japanese food to their host families. There’s no doubt this homestay will become a deep and lasting memory for each and every one of them.

              As for me, this was actually my second time in Red Wing. Last time I visited I came away impressed by how beautiful the city was. It really was an extremely beautiful city. An expansive area abounding in nature, situated on the banks of the Mississippi River, the maintenance of which I later realized actually takes a fair amount of effort. For instance the flower baskets that decorate the streets were actually inspired by a visit to a city in Canada and at first there were only a few but the number has increased steadily every year. Furthermore, the cost of maintaining the baskets is actually nearly fully paid for by donations from volunteer group activities and corporations. Every morning, students from the local technical college come around to each and every one of the approximately 300 baskets to water them. Not only that but I also noticed that every morning someone always came by on a lawnmower to mow the lawns lining the streets. Mrs. Madson, member of the Red Wing Friends of Sister Cities group, talked to us and said that maintaining a beautiful lawn is a duty that was people pride themselves on. I understood then that this is the kind of spirit that it takes to maintain a city of green and beautiful brick.

              We also got a chance to speak with Red Wing Sister Cities Chair Tao Peng about education. It was thanks to Drago coming along with us on this trip that we were able to have such detailed conversations. I’m grateful that I was able to come to understand Red Wing more. Our daily schedules were filled from morning to night but it was precisely because of this that my second time around was so extremely insightful and fulfilling. On the 13th, the students said their goodbyes to their host families and we headed on our way home, taking with us our memories as our most precious souvenirs.

              It is a shame that I can not introduce everyone to our wonderful hosts in Red Wing, they really did treat us so amazingly well. Thank you to everyone involved. 

English Teacher, Ikata Middle School:  Mr. Adachi

              Immigration at Chicago O’Hare International Airport; that question from the immigration officer: “Do you have a letter of invitation from the City of Red Wing?” “Do you have any formal letter at all?” You could tell right away the officer thought we looked suspicious and that he wasn’t about to let us pass. Luckily, thanks to a quick response by Drago, we eventually were able to get through immigration without a scratch. 
              It seems that, in the wake of the terror attacks in 2001, immigration has become much stricter in the United States. However, it is because of such measures that I believe we were able to feel so safe and secure throughout the homestay. 
              After two nights in Chicago, the homestay in Red Wing began. This year marks the 16th student delegation to Red Wing giving the program quite a bit of history. It is a wonderful and deeply meaningful experience that allows middle school students the chance to leave Japan and interact with people of another country in a completely different culture. The host families of the 10 students were very kind and friendly towards us. I am full to the brim with gratefulness for how well we were treated and it seemed to me that we as well as the students deepened our friendship with each and every interaction. For example, our friendship deepened when students treated their hosts to traditional Japanese buckwheat noodles and miso soup. Our friendship deepened when students used origami paper brought from Japan and spent time with their host families making paper cranes and flying Japanese-style paper airplanes together.  Still others who lived with families with small kids found themselves just playing along and having a good time together with the kids. I think it’s fair to say that it was not just the Japanese students but the American children as well for whom it was a time that will live on in their hearts.

              Several days into the homestay we got to meet a certain young man named Chad. He came to Ikata five years ago and is now a university student. From the beginning of the homestay to the end of it, he was always looking after the students and chaperons. Times like when we went for a walk and hiked that beautiful hill covered in green called Barn Bluff, Chad was always looking out to make sure that everyone was walking safely. It’s easy to think that the exchange program ends when that two-week homestay ends but here was a young man who, even after 5 years had passed since his homestay in Ikata, had still not forgotten Ikata or the people he met there. And I think that it is precisely because of that experience that he was able to take on such a role so well. Similarly, I had the pleasure of meeting a young man named Jackson who stayed with a host family in Misaki when he came to Ikata. He spoke so highly about his time there, and it sounded like so much fun, I found myself happy just listening. We even met a girl by chance who told us “I went to Ikata” when we visited a local restaurant. 

             When I saw these young people I realized how important it is that we work to continue our exchange program. I bet that those students who were a part of the very first exchange program have become outstanding members of society. So I say to the 10 junior-high school students this year, don’t let your experience end here, only occasionally recalling these memories from time to time. No, instead, find ways to connect your experiences now with exchanges in the future.        
              Finally, to the Ikata International Exchange Association and to everyone who made this trip possible, I offer my deepest appreciation and most heartfelt gratitude. Thank you.

Ikata Junior High: Shimon

              From the 1st until the 15th of August, as a member of the Ikata Junior High-School Student Overseas Delegation, I stayed with a host family in the United States. Before we we landed in the United States I was really excited about the trip but for a second after we landed I got a little nervous. I was worried at customs thinking “Will our English actually be enough?”  letting out a sigh of relief as we got through immigration.
              Arriving in Minneapolis at last, the time had come to head to Red Wing. Genki and my host family were unable to make it out to the airport to meet us so we rode along with another host family to Red Wing. I got even more nervous with anticipation as we drove down. 
              We met our host family at their home. The first person to come out and greet us was a boy about the same age as me named Dean. All I could think about was how tall he was. After that, we met his mom Deanna and introduced ourselves and she showed us around the house. I was surprised at how big and beautiful their house was and at how different in size it was from houses in Japan
              That night after dinner we went out on a drive through Red Wing. We sort of forgot about the time as she showed us around because it was just so much fun. The sunset looked more or less the same as the ones back in Japan but when I looked at my watch I couldn’t believe that it was 8:30! (the days are so long!) 
              The next day we gave our host family the presents we brought with us from Japan. They knew the painting by Hokusai Katsushika and about origami so I guess they knew a bit about Japanese culture already. They were especially happy when we showed them how to make shuriken. They called them “Ninja Stars” and we had a great time throwing them around. 
              The one thing that sticks out most in my mind out of everything that we did during and all the events was the parade during the festival they call River City Days. I knew that we would be playing the taiko drums like how we practiced back in Japan but when I heard that the parade was going to be 2 kilometers long I thought it was going to be so tiring. Not only that but I felt uneasy about how exactly to pass the fans and other things we brought to give to people at the parade. But as soon as the parade got started, I started having so much fun and soon all that uneasiness disappeared. Everyone was so happy when we passed out the gifts. The best part was when I gave people the gifts, I got to have little conversations... and they understood me!  It was such a fun parade, the two kilometers seemed like nothing. 
              Other than that, we got to go see a major league baseball game, swim in the Mississippi River, and even go to a firing range, all things that you really can’t do in Japan. And as far as food and day-to-day life in the United States, I think I can easily say that I was able to learn a bit about American culture. 
              I learned so much and had such an amazing time thanks to all these experiences. Thanks to this homestay experience in the United States, I am even more interested in studying English and want to get even better. I hope I can continue to use everything I learned during this amazing experience in my life to come.

Ikata Junior High School: Kaho

              The two week homestay has ended, but I made many great memories and got to know so many people so well. 

              There were many times during my homestay when what I wanted to say didn’t seem to make sense to the people around me but it was nice because I could see everyone trying so hard to understand. They let us eat things that we liked for meals and on free days, our host family took us to all kinds of places. On the first free day we went to the home of a family member and swam in their pool. I had no idea American pools got gradually deeper so I felt like I was going to slip and drown every now and then. On the way home, they took us to the biggest mall in the United States. There were so many shops and even an amusement park in the center. I wanted to buy something but there were just so many things that I ended up not getting anything.

              At the River City Days parade, they let us play the taiko drums that we brought. It was great because I was able to play the drums with a big smile on my face. The next day was the day of the tree planting ceremony and welcome party. At the welcome party as well, we played the traditional Okinawan drum song called “Eisa”. It was wonderful because everyone clapped for us at the end. The food was also really good. 

              Other than that we went hiking, exercised a bit at the YMCA, went to the Science Museum of Minnesota, Saint Paul’s Cathedral, and even the State Capitol. I was happy that we went to the State Capitol because I don’t think that people really get a chance to do things like that. 

              We went to the grocery store nearby a lot as well. No matter which supermarket we went to though, they were always so enormous and had so much food that they almost didn’t feel like a grocery store at all, especially because they sold other things like electronics and furniture. I kept thinking to myself, “Is this really a grocery store?!”. 

              One night we went to see a major league baseball game. The stadium was bigger than any that I had seen in Japan, so big that one would easily get lost if they wandered off. We rode a train to get there and back. It surprised me to see a space on the train for bikes. It was so much fun .

               The next day they let us go to a party. We met a nice Japanese woman there. That woman told us that when she was in college she visited Red Wing during her time studying abroad and ended up marrying someone she met there and now lives in the United States. She was from the city of Nagoya in Aichi prefecture so we didn’t know her but we soon became good friends and had a great conversation. I thought she was so wonderful because her English was perfect and she could speak Japanese as well. I hope that some day I too can become just as good at both Japanese and English as she was. 

              That night we told our host family “We would like to buy some souvenirs.” and so they took us to the nearby supermarket. They let us shop around for a whole hour so we really were able to buy a lot. I was happy that we got to buy a lot. 

              The day before the last, a farewell party was held for all of us. All the food that they made was really delicious and I was happy that we got to hang out with everyone one last time. We even got to throw some pottery. I had a good time making one the best I could and I hope try again someday.

              Then the final day arrived. All that remained was getting up really early to start heading home. We left our host family’s house at 5:30. I was so tired still because it was so early. Everyone came out to see us off, smiling and waving until the very end. 

              I learned many things thanks to this homestay but mostly I learned the importance of words. Things stop completely if you do not know the words so I want to make sure that every day from now on I try my best to learn as many new words as I can. 

              Lastly, to everyone that made this trip possible, thank you. I will never forget how grateful I am. Thank you very much

"To America for a Homestay"

Ikata Junior High School: Rena

              I got to go to Red Wing for about two weeks from the first of August until the 15th. I was really uneasy about going because I was not very good at speaking English. And this year because no students were able to come from the United States to Ikata, we went to Red Wing without getting to test out how well we could speak. 
              We spent the first two days touring in Chicago. There were many more cars on the roads than in Japan. I was also surprised at how many skyscrapers there were. It didn’t seem like those kinds of skyscrapers existed in Japan. Our Chicago tour ended quickly but we got to see a lot of many famous things in those two days. I felt really uneasy in Chicago, though. I don’t know how many times I thought to myself "I want to go back to Japan"
              At long last the day came for our homestays. When we got there, our host father took some time to show us around the house. It was all in English so I had almost no idea what he was saying but thankfully we were able to understand a little bit because he kept using gestures to explain. They were really happy when we gave them the gifts from the Ikata International Exchange Association as well as the ones that we had prepared ourselves. They were especially happy at the chopsticks and fans. We went to a party on the second day and we got to meet a lot of people. I was really nervous because there were so many people. I was really surprised though because there were some people at the party that could speak some Japanese. Thanks to that I guess I felt a little better. The third day was the day of the River City Days parade. It was the first time since I had come to Red Wing that I had seen so many people. There were a lot of people on either side of the road who all came out and cheered for us. I was pretty nervous but it was great because once the parade and drum performance began I started smiling and singing out with all my might. The candy and fans that we had brought to give out at the parade were really popular and we ran out really quickly! I was pretty tired after walking the 2 kilometers but I was happy that we were able to show the people a little bit about Japan’s taiko drum tradition. 
              There was a welcome party and tree-planting ceremony on the fourth day. We all got to plant the tree together, hoping all along that it would grow to be big and strong. We performed the traditional Okinawan taiko drum performance called Eisa at the welcome party and even though I made a couple mistakes I still gave it my best. It was good because we were able to meet other people from other host families. 
              We made some Japanese-style buckwheat noodles for our host family on the fifth day. It was nice to see them try to eat it using the chopsticks we gave them and we were happy when they said it was “Very good!” 
              As for Marina and me, we got moved to a different host family starting on the seventh day. Luckily, we had gotten the chance to meet and hang out with them a couple times so soon we were getting along just fine. They took us to a lot of different places. I had a lot of fun when we went to watch the baseball game. I thought it was interesting but I didn’t really understand the rules much because it was my first time ever going to watch a baseball game. It was also nice to get to go to the National Eagle Center and take pictures with the Eagles there. It was great to see the eagles really up close. 
              At the farewell party, Mr. Larkin helped us make pottery together. I was a bit unsure of what to do because it was my first time but it was great because Tom kept saying “Nice!” and made me feel more confident. 
              I think I really got to know about both the culture and lifestyle of the United States thanks to this homestay experience. Even though at first all I could think was how much I wanted to go home, the closer it got to the last day, the more I thought how much I wanted to stay. I’m happy that I applied to go on this overseas exchange program and I am so happy that I got to experience so many wonderful things. I am so grateful to everyone that made this trip possible. Truly, thank you.

Misaki Middle School: Junna

              What a valuable experience. Our homestay destination was Red Wing, a town not only abundant with beautiful nature but full of kindhearted people, people that made this homestay so rich and full. 

              It was an experience that I was both looking forward to and uneasy about but thanks to the kindness and positivity of our host family, all of that unease quickly disappeared. Just as I thought, having a conversation was the hardest part of the homestay. Still, I was somehow able to be understood a little bit just using the words that I knew and the grammar that I had learned. As long as I was able hear and pick out the words that I knew, I was basically able to understand what they were telling me. I realized that as long as I kept thinking “I want them to understand.” and “I want to understand”, somehow we understood each other. Not to mention that every word I heard had a certain freshness to it because it was different in pronunciation from the pronunciations that we had always heard in class.

                We quickly became close friends with our host family. All of the kids were younger than me and we played around together a lot. They were all really interested in all of the gifts we had brought along with us from Japan, especially the top. It was so great to see them enjoying the toys and gifts that we brought with us from Japan. Our host mother and father were so nice and planned many things to try and make sure we had a great time. Whether it was shopping or to a local event, it was all fun. We were even able to meet Ms. Red Wing! She was so beautiful. 

              As far as when we were home, we always wore our shoes inside the house. This really surprised me! Definitely not something that would happen in Japan. I was also surprised that their two-year old daughter slept in her own room alone. There were a lot of things like this that surprised me. But it was funny because it seemed to me like our host family was just as surprised at some of the things that we did as we were of some of the things that they did. Especially when they saw that we had eaten everything on our plate down to the last grain of rice. I mean, to us it is so normal, almost unconscious really, but to them it was surprising or shocking even. There are so many differences in customs, it just made me think about how big the world is. 

              We held a Japanese Party during our homestay. It was a really exciting party and even our host brothers’ and sisters’ friends came to join us. We taught them about Japanese food, candy, how to use chopsticks and even a few words in Japanese. We made okonomiyaki, buckwheat noodles, miso soup, and chirashi sushi. They really seemed to enjoy the candy. it looked like they really enjoyed trying on the traditional Japanese summer clothes called Jinbei. I was so happy that we got to teach them about our Japanese culture. 

              It was just a short two weeks but in that time not only did I come to understand the culture and how nice America is but I also came to feel again what was so nice about Japan. It really is an irreplaceable two weeks; A time when I came to like even more the English that I love. I want make use of what I learned and turn it into a big strength in life. I also want to continue to keep in touch with my host family from here on out and eventually I would like to go back to Red Wing. I want to be sure to learn more English for when that time comes so that I can talk even more.    

              I will never forget how grateful I am to everyone that made this trip possible: my family, everybody at the Ikata International Exchange Association, and everyone in my host family. Thank you so much.

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