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Sister city group and local residents host a delegation of students for a nine-day trip

COURTESY PHOTO  - The delegation of students from Kitakata, Japan, carved pumpkins at Frog Pond Farm during the trip.

It's not every day teenagers are tasked with assimilating into a strange land with unusual social customs, a different language and foreign cuisine.

But, through Wilsonville's sister city relationship with its counterparts in Kitakata, Japan, a group of students recently embraced that opportunity.

"My hats are off to them," said Lois Reimer, a Wilsonville Sister City Association member.

"The fact that they are willing to do this at that age and that their parents support this, it does take some courage."

During their nine-day trip, the group ate breakfast with Wilsonville Mayor Tim Knapp, attended classes at local schools, carved pumpkins at Frog Pond Farm, went trick-or-treating in local neighborhoods, visited the Columbia RiverGorge and the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, and stayed with local host families.

While taking a break from bowling strikes at Wilsonville Lanes, 14-year-old Saki Aida, Kota Kuninishi, 15, and Sato Yu, 14, chatted about their experiences on the other side of the planet from their hometown. Reimer, a former Wilsonville High Japanese teacher, served as the translator.

Kota expected the United States to have a more diverse population than Kitakata and he said that proved to be true. He also noticed that kids here have more freedom and that the schools are less clean. At his school, students are required to wear two different pairs of shoes depending on whether they are inside or outside. Saki agreed that American kids have more freedom, and both said they wished they had more freedom in their lives.

Reimer, who hosted one Japanese student, said another cultural difference is that the Japanese kids are used to having the mother take care of chores and meals for them.

"We try to make host families aware of that difference," she said.

For all three students, communication was a bit of a challenge. For instance, Kota struggled to tell his host family that he wanted to go to Costco. Saki said she has learned some English in school and that her host family mostly asks yes or no questions, which is helpful.

"She (Saki) said she could understand a lot, but it takes her a long time to put together what she wants to say back," Reimer said.

Kota enjoyed the "Exquisite Creatures" exhibit at OMSI, which melds art and science, while Sato enjoyed visiting Mount Hood.

"There was snow up there and the temperature was so low. That fascinated him," Reimer said.

Saki enjoyed eating Buffalo Wild Wings for the first time, while Kota was impressed with the tacos here.

"They have those in Japan, but he (Kota) ate them here and they were much better," Reimer said.

Kota knew he was interested in visiting the U.S. prior to the trip because he wants to work in another country when he's older. And it lived up to expectations.

"The experience in its entirety is something he (Kota) will never forget," Reimer said.

Sato thinks programs like these promote understanding and peace.

"He (Sato) said he wanted to come to learn as much as he can about another culture, because that's how he believes countries can come together," Reimer said.

She said the Japanese students were well behaved and hoped they had a great experience in town.

"They do what we ask them to. They come here; they go into someone else's home; they go and see things and do things in our schools and in the area around Wilsonville; they eat the food we give them. I think there is something they gained beyond a travel experience that can be done no other way than in a home stay," she said.


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