From Pacific to Atlantic: Japanese Exchange Students Visit Ridge

Yunhee Kang ‘15, Copy Editor

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With jubilant konichiwas, a multitude of host families, and fresh autumnal weather, Basking Ridge warmly greeted 23 Japanese high school students and two chaperones during the weekend of November 15.

Selected by the Laurasian Institution and the Japanese government, Ridge welcomed the exchange students from Uto High School (in Kumamoto, Kyushu, Japan) for the second year in a row. After a potluck welcome party on Saturday, the Japanese students spent all of Sunday becoming familiar with American culture, the Basking Ridge lifestyle, and, inevitably, the new time zone.

A full free day is bound to lead to unforgettable memories and valuable relationships; Renee Hastings ’15 notes that, while the Japanese students did get accustomed to American culture that day, she also got to learn “about what her [Japanese exchange student’s] life is like in Japan.”

They developed a perfect cultural symbiosis, as Cameron Montag ’15 affirms: “It gives both sides the ability to learn new things. So not only are they in America to learn about us, but we can also learn so much more by talking to them.”

With several other Ridge and Japanese students, Elena Yang ’16 traveled to New York City for the day. She described how the exchange students were “constantly in awe” during this “great bonding experience,” as many tourists often are. “I think,” Yang observes, “they were mostly entranced by the American serving sizes. They probably took more pictures of the burgers we ate than of the skyscrapers.”

On Monday, November 17, the Uto students, dressed in neat, black uniforms, met the rest of the Ridge population as they shadowed their hosts to fully immerse themselves in the American student culture. The Japanese students were able to experience a typical nine-period Ridge High School day, from the traffic at 7 AM to the afternoon announcements during 9th period.

Hastings notes that there are “so many things you don’t realize are different between life here and life in Japan.” Indeed, a talk with two of the cultural exchange students revealed that the day spent at Ridge opened their eyes to a whole new school system.

Masahiro Horiuchi was astonished simply by the size of our school, explaining that the number of “all the many crossroads within the building” had him amazed. Yura Ueno expressed fascination for the “style of class.” When she saw that students could “say their opinion, raise their hands, and talk freely,” she was as equally amazed.

But the Ridge students only reciprocated this amazement during the after-school event held in the cafeteria. The students from Kyushu gave an entertaining and enlightening presentation on their hometown and customs, complete with costumes and skits. After discussing some festivals and historical attractions that lie no more than an hour from their houses, the Japanese students provided more insight on their popular culture and school life in Kumamoto. Although they came from halfway across the world with entirely different backgrounds, it was clear that the Japanese students were teenagers just like us, sharing the same excitement and pride for their country.

Japanese teacher Kristin Wingate describes that the “most exciting thing was watching my students who are studying Japanese get to talk with their new exchange friends.” The conversations were only spiced up by the Ridge students’ visit to Japan this past summer; because of this experience, they could “exchange stories, talk about the places they visited, and the food they ate.”

The eventful day concluded with delectable sushi catered from Tsuki Japanese Restaurant, as the exchange students prepared to depart for Boston the following morning to continue their two-week tour of America. We saw them last year and we saw them last month; hopefully we’ll find more exchange students knocking (quite literally) on our door in the future, as the program establishes itself as a Ridge tradition for years to come.

Ms. Wingate encapsulates the significance of cultural exchange beautifully, musing that it “is something that everyone should take part in at least once, even if it’s just for a day or even one event. Talking to someone from a culture different than yours really opens your eyes and it not only teaches you something about someone else, but you also learn more about yourself.”

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