• Below: A profile on Hikone exchange coordinator Larry Dishman
By Casey Hans
Octopus sushi, a visit to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial to place paper origami cranes and sleeping on futons seem like an unlikely combination, but all were part of a student cultural experience in a visit this fall to Hikone, Japan.
Nine middle school and three high school students from Ann Arbor were part of the district’s 16th student delegation to visit Ann Arbor’s Japanese sister city of Hikone, which also sent a delegation to Ann Arbor in the fall. Students and project directors did a debriefing and enjoyed a potluck dinner in December where they shared stories of the trip.
According to project coordinator Larry Dishman, the role of the delegates is to bring good will to the people of Hikone, as the two communities celebrate the 40th anniversary of the sister city relationship.
“This is something you will remember for many, many years, if not for a lifetime,” Dishman told students. At the potluck students were able to report back on their experiences, share their favorite (and not-so-favorite) times from the trip.
Chinonye Uche, a student from Slauson Middle School, said she didn’t have to walk to school as did many of the students, but was driven by her Japanese host family. “It was hard talking to them in Japanese,” she said. “They tried to speak English to accommodate me. We used a computer to translate.”
Aviva Gordon from Clague Middle School, said her family had a translator to help them communicate and said her host mom was an English teacher, which helped.
“I loved all the food,” she added. “But the most powerful day was the day we went to Hiroshima” where the students were immersed in the country’s history of World War II, she said. When the group left to return to the United States, the eighth-grader said, “I didn’t feel like I was coming home, I felt like I was leaving home.”
Anne Marie Borders, a teacher at Logan Elementary School, was one of two project directors for the trip, a task she shared with Tonya Dildy, a teacher at Angell Elementary School. Both traveled to Japan on prior trips.
Borders did a Web page for the students where photos of the trip were posted along with their memories. “You can’t go there without getting to know one another,” she added.
She agreed that the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum was the most memorable part of the trip. “Hiroshima was hard,” she said. “It was hard for all of us. The only thing standing (within two kilometers of the blast) is that dome from one building.”
Locally some 239 students have traveled to Japan with the Hikone exchange over the years Dishman said.
“These groups of kids are from different middle schools and form a group unto themselves,” Dishman explained. “It kind of brings Ann Arbor together.”
Dishman, coordinator for team sports for the district’s Red & Ed Department, has been the Hikone program coordinator since 1996 but has worked with the program in various capacities since 1990. He has served as the coordinator for 10 of the program’s 13 trips.
“I embraced the culture and learned about the culture,” he said. “It’s sort of a labor of love. This changes kids’ lives, this program. They all remember this experience. It’s nice to touch a kid’s life in such a fashion. We should find ways to do it more often.”
Eighth- and ninth-grade students visit Hikone every other year; this year’s trip was special to celebrate the sister city anniversary. Dishman explained that all students are trained in Japanese language and culture over the summer months before taking the delegation’s trip in the fall. “They become like a family unto themselves,” he said.
Dishman said students must have a minimum 3.0 grade point average and their family must be willing to pay a user fee for the student to travel. Each student ambassador was required to raise $600 through individual and group fundraising projects for this special delegation trip.
Ann Arbor middle school students will begin receiving information about the next Hikone exchange trip in early February at their schools, Dishman said.
This year’s Ann Arbor delegation spent one week in Hikone with Japanese host families where they attended local junior high schools. They then visited Hiroshima, Miyajima and Kyoto and delivered 1,000 handmade origami paper cranes to the statue of Sadako in the Hiroshima Peace Park.
In October, a delegation of 14 junior high school students from Hikone visited Ann Arbor. Activities while they were here included an opening day reception at Forsythe Middle School, a picnic at Gallup Park, an all-day trip to Greenfield Village and a Sayonara Party at Conor O’Neill’s in downtown Ann Arbor.
It was the 31st time the Japanese city sent a delegation to Ann Arbor.
“The idea is to let them know that everything isn’t as it is in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It makes them better global thinkers. As a rule, many of them have never been out of the (United) States.” – Larry Dishman
Coordinator embraces Japanese culture, helps students prepare for overseas trip
By Casey Hans
The adage that “life happens while you are making plans” could best explain Larry Dishman’s path. His interests and studies have led him to create the building blocks upon which he has built his career.
In pursuing his multiple college degrees in linguistics and working toward a goal of teaching, he took a job working as an umpire for The Ann Arbor Public Schools Recreation Department. That led to a part-time job and eventually a full-time career coordinating team sports for the district’s Rec & Ed Department which he said has “helped me to touch a lot of lives. I’m glad I ended up here,” said Dishman who has been in his post since 1974.
Contacts through his job helped hiim arrange a series of exhibition games throughout Michigan for the NSK Global-sponsored Japanese Women’s National Championship fast-pitch softball team in the 1980s as well as being one of the architects and chief programmers for the Arborough Games, an exchange program with Peterborough, Ontario, Canada and a German internship exchange with Ann Arbor’s German sister city.
Those, in turn, led him to become involved with the Hikone-Ann Arbor Educational Exchange Program which helps middle school students visit Japan and also arranges host families when Japanese student delegations visit Ann Arbor.
Dishman now coordinates this exchange program for Ann Arbor.
“I sort of entered through the back door,” he said. “Originally, I served as a fund-raiser for the program.”
The program has sent dozens of young Ann Arbor students to Japan, helping them raise money to fund the trip. They travel to Japan every two years, unless there is a special event, such as this years’ when a special delegation of 12 students and two teachers visited this fall.
Through the program, he has been able to encourage a love of Japanese culture and language. “I’ve tried to expand their knowledge of world languages,” he said. “The idea is to let them know that everything isn’t as it is in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It makes them better global thinkers. As a rule, many of them have never been out of the (United) States.”
Dishman’s parents moved to Ann Arbor from Nebraska (“They chose to go east, instead of west during the Dirty Thirties,” he said,) and Dishman was born and raised here, attending St. Thomas the Apostle School. He is married to Donna and they have two adult daughters.
In addition to his dedication to the Hikone exchange program, Dishman is a Civil War history buff, likes 1930s and 1940s films, and enjoys the early history of college football (pre 1950.) He also loves Irish culture and music.
Casey Hans edits this newsletter for The Ann Arbor Public Schools. E-mail her or call 734-994-2090 ext. 51228.
Occupation: Coordinator for team sports for the Ann Arbor Public Schools Rec & Ed Department and coordinator for the Hikone-Ann Arbor Educational Exchange Program since 1996.
Residence: Grew up in Ann Arbor, currently lives in Canton Township but still has strong connections here.
Education: Undergraduate degree in English and French from Eastern Michigan University, two master’s degrees in linguistics from the University of Michigan and a nearly completed doctoral degree in linguistics (except for the dissertation.)
Family: Married to Donna. They have two adult daughters, Megan, 26, and Bethany, 22.
Community service: His work with the Hikone exchange program.
Favorite meals: Yosenabe (a seafood stew) at Izakaya Sanpei, a Japanese restaurant in Canton Township, or ribs and kraut at Three Brothers Restaurant in Plymouth.
Favorite book: “All Quiet on the Western Front” by Erich Maria Remarque.
Life philosophy: “If you don’t create a building or edifice, leave a mark in the hearts of people you touch. Leave the world a better place because of what you did while you were here.”