Story and photos by Jo Mathis/AAPS District News
Fourteen students from Ann Arbor’s sister city of Hikone, Japan are enjoying the first days of their weeklong visit to Ann Arbor.
“People are so friendly,” said 15-year-old Misaki Yasuike at a district-wide delegation welcome and reception Tuesday at Slauson Middle School.
Slauson Principal Rick Weiler greeted the delegation, noting that while the two cities are 6,500 miles apart, coming together makes the world smaller.
“We realize that we have more in common than the distance of thousands of miles would otherwise indicate,” he said. “So today we celebrate our commonalities and our increased understanding of one another.”
The Hikone Exchange Program began back in 1979 when AAPS teacher Rusty Schumacher who took part in a teacher exchange to Hikone.
Since then, hundreds of Ann Arbor and Hikone students and teachers have spent time in each other’s city learning language and culture, said project director and Scarlett Middle School teacher Ian Shephard.
“But more important,” Shephard told those gathered in the auditorium, “this program has worked to support a spirit of friendship and learning between our two communities. We are thankful for the support of our community and student leaders and grateful you could join us here today.”
Superintendent Jeanice Swift presented the students with gifts of T-shirts, while Ann Arbor Mayor Chris Taylor welcomed them to the city. The Slauson Middle School Choir provided the afternoon’s entertainment.
Also at the welcome and reception were parents of AAPS students who are hosting the Japanese chaperones and students this week.
Brian Pinkelman said he became a host family because his son, Nick, a seventh grader at Ann Arbor Open, wanted to do get involved in the exchange.
“He wants to go to Japan and he also wants to go all over the world, so I think this is kind of a first step for him to do that,” said Pinkelman, who said their exchange student, Ryosei, seems to be having fun so far. “It’s exciting, and everyone’s engaged.”
A.J. Stewart, 12, said that last year, his sister traveled to Japan after hosting a Japanese student.
“Hearing her stories when she came back really got me into it,” said A.J., standing beside his 15-year-old exchange student, Daichi.
Maho Yamaguchi, 15, said she finds Ann Arbor “beautiful and natural” and looks forward to touring more schools. The biggest difference she could see so far?
“Lockers!” she said.
The students return to Japan on Monday following a week packed with activities, including tours of AAPS schools; shopping downtown; lunch at the University of Michigan’s Center for Japanese Studies; a trip to The Henry Ford Museum/Greenfield Village; a Halloween party with pumpkin carving, games and costumes; and more.