June is right around the corner and four Madras High School seniors are preparing for more than just graduation.
Katherinne Parodi, Kimberly Juarez, Elan Rios and Kiandra Smith, along with chaperone Andrew Smiley, are headed to Tomi City, Japan, at the end of June as a part of the Sister City program between Madras and Tomi City that has been in place for the past 25 years.
On June 26, the group heads out, and won't be returning until July 7. The trip is only the third time, in the past 25 years, that Madras has sent a group of students to the Sister City, though Tomi City students have been visiting regularly during that time.
As the trip approaches, the students are looking forward to it more and more and have a sense of the significance of the opportunity.
"Going on this trip is important to me because I know it's an opportunity that isn't presented often," said Elan Rios.
"I am looking forward to reconnecting with our Sister City exchange students who visited this past March. I feel like we developed a good bond. I'm excited to see them and experience their culture," she said.
In March, a group of Tomi City students visited Madras, and while in Tomi City, the Madras students will get the opportunity to see those students again.
The Madras group, as was the case with the Tomi City students during their visit, will be housed in host homes for the duration of their time in the Sister City. That is an important part of the program, according to the chaperone, Andrew Smiley. Staying with families in their homes offers the students a better glimpse into the cultures and everyday experiences of a place.
Kiandra Smith, another of the Madras students, said she is most looking forward to learning about the culture and gaining a better understanding of how people in Tomi City live.
"This trip is important to me because I plan on living abroad someday," she said. "It was one of my goals to become an ESL teacher in Japan."
Aside from the excitement of learning about the culture, reconnecting with the Tomi City students and meeting new people, a couple of the students expressed an excitement for the food they will encounter on the trip that is different from that of Oregon and the U.S.
Katherinne Parodi noted that she is looking forward to visiting the Cup Noodle factory on the trip and trying different kinds of what she refers to as "amazing foods."
Her fellow student, Kimberly Juarez, mentioned that she is looking forward to visiting 7/11 convenience stores in Japan because the selection of food is so much different.
Juarez went on to say, "This trip is important to me because it will allow me to understand our world and experience its mass of opportunities for adventure."
All of the students agreed that the trip is an opportunity that doesn't present itself often and all of them are looking forward to experiencing new things and learning from the experience.
While in Japan, the group will spend about five days in Tomi City, before leaving to spend several days in Tokyo. The students who visited Madras in March had a similar experience, spending some time in Portland.
The itinerary for the Madras group includes visiting the mayor and city hall of Tomi City, visiting Tobu Middle School, Matsumoto Castle and Unno-Juku, Tomi City's historic district. They will also be spending an entire day with their host families, aside from the time they spend with them in the evenings.
"This is a great opportunity for people to be open-minded and explore another country's culture. It offers a chance for people to have a glimpse into someone else's way of life and understand them a bit better," Smith said about the importance and value of the program.
Parodi expressed her excitement for the trip and said, "This trip is so important to me because, for one thing, it's a once in maybe a lifetime opportunity, and two, it's Japan!"
She continued, "I'm also excited to go meet the city council in Tomi city; I know Madras has done very well with keeping in touch with our Sister City and all we want is for our relationship to thrive and to keep growing as a whole!"