SAN MARCOS — Hello America! Eight teenage students from the southern end of Japan left the flowering cherry blossoms of Fukuoka to tour San Diego County from March 27 through April 9. They stayed with San Marcos Unified School District students and their families as part of the San Marcos/Nakagawa, Japan International Student Exchange Program.
“It’s been great,” program volunteer Alan Brown said. “Kids have been great. The weather’s been great.”
With less than two weeks to explore the region, the trip was a whirlwind of activities. The six girls and two boys saw the big regional attractions like Balboa Park, Seaport Village and Disneyland. They toured the local spots of interest from San Marcos City Hall to Quail Botanical Gardens. The students also sat in on classes at various San Marcos schools.
“Everything is huge!” 17-year-old Mami Fujino said in Japanese. “When I get back to Japan, everything will look smaller. The schools here are giant compared to Japanese schools.”
“This is my first time (in America), so I’m really excited,” said Yosuke Yasutake, a teacher from Fukuoka acting as chaperone and translator. “I’m impressed that people are really friendly. We were strangers here, but they said hello to us. “
“I love America, that’s why I came,” Mami’s friend Mako Sadakata said in Japanese. “The culture is so different.”
The group from Fukuoka actually constitutes the second half of the exchange cycle. Students from the San Marcos host families stayed with the families of the Fukuoka students last July. Program organizer Mary Borevitz said the timing worked out nicely.
“We send students who finished their junior year so they come back and all their senior year they’re here and they can talk about it with their friends.” She noted that the students come back far more gracious and polite, which makes them better hosts when the Japanese students come to stay.
Due to the recent economic downturn, the heavily subsidized exchange program has had to get creative to stay in operation. The host-family community on both sides of the Pacific Ocean has borne most of that cost. When San Marcos students stay in Japan, the host families there pick up the living expenses. The San Marcos host families then return the favor.
“I tell them they’re getting at least a $5,000 trip to Japan for the cost of a plane flight,” program director Tanis Brown said. “When the Japanese students come here, you are the bank.”
Brown said it helps that local attractions are often willing to open their doors to the students and little or no charge.
“I always try to keep my options open — who do I know that could host a group of students and find stuff for them to do,” she said.
Regardless of the challenges, financial and logistical, Brown said the program has enough funds to continue at least until next year. More information on the San Marcos/Nakagawa exchange can be found by contacting Tanis Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.