BY CALLIE NORDAHL
Northwestern students are used to seeing new faces, especially right after the beginning of another semester. However, there are approximately a dozen faces that are new not only to campus but also to the United States. NW is in its third year of a growing friendship with Meiji Gakuin Higashimurayama High School. This year, 12 students, accompanied by their teacher Akio Takahashi, are here for three weeks.
This friendship started when NW representatives, Kevin McMahan amung them, went to visit alumnus Norimichi “Nori” Odate. Odate moved to Tokyo after graduating from NW, and when MGH opened its doors 15 years ago, he was there to greet the first students. Because of his passion for culture and sharing experiences, Odate started bringing students back to the Midwest during the summer. Some came to improve their English; others came to travel around the country as part of a bell choir.
After a few summers, Nori got in touch with McMahan and discussed the possibilities of bringing students to the U.S. during the school year. Four years later, we are seeing the friendships and opportunities that have resulted from acting on these possibilities.
Takahashi, the MGH English teacher, said he has a strong passion for this program to be successful. He added that he wants this experience to help these students become prosperous and well-rounded adults.
Takahashi said he is surprised by the large sense of safety in not only Orange City but also in the U.S. Although the Midwest is extremely different from Tokyo, its safer atmosphere helps keep the program going and reassures parents.
One of the students, Yusuke Sonoda, is currently enjoying his first trip to America. Although the weather is very cold and windy for him, he said he is enjoying the friendly people he is getting to meet. He is also pleased to see how much his English is improving.
“The strangest thing I have seen here is very different,” said Sonoda. “In the dorms, people keep their shoes on all the time. I am used to taking mine off always.”
Mami Suruta is also here on her first trip abroad and said she is loving the food, especially the donuts from the bakery. She is studying intercultural relationships in school, so she said she is pleased that she was given this opportunity to see how other people work in a different culture. She cherishes the kind students who, so far, have helped her come out of her bubble.
Hikari Suruya, another visiting student, is in the U.S. for a second time. She said she is appreciating the fact that she can reunite with people she met last summer while also meeting new friends.
“I think it is very odd that people wear shorts and t-shirts in this weather,” Suruya said. “I am wearing pants and sweaters because it’s so cold.”
She said she is interested in English literature and is working hard at practicing her English to become a proficient speaker.
Riho Umeda, also a student, has been to the United States many times by traveling with the bell choir and with school. Unlike some of the other students, Umeda said she loves the cold and the snow — and she is excited she gets to experience a real winter. Riho loves practicing her English with the people she has been meeting, and she is touched by how accepting and welcoming people on this campus have been.
The future of this relationship between NW and MGH is full of possibilities; one day, NW students will be able to go to Tokyo to tutor and experience Japanese culture, as well.