TERRE HAUTE —
Six Vigo County high school students and two educators, including superintendent Dan Tanoos, recently returned from a two-week cultural exchange trip to Tajimi, Japan.
The delegation spent one week with host families and the second week visiting other parts of Japan.
“This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Adam Blackburn, a North Vigo senior.
The other five students were Grace Roberts and Madison King of Terre Haute South Vigo, and Alyssa Wheeler, Kate Edler and Dominique Bagnoche of Terre Haute North Vigo. Erika Cantin, a teacher at Terre Haute North, organized the trip and also chaperoned students.
Roberts, a South Vigo ninth-grader, believes that traveling overseas “helps you understand the world as a bigger place.”
Cantin said her favorite part was staying with host families. “The town of Tajimi values our sister city relationship so much. They were absolutely thrilled to have us there, and they are so generous and kind and welcoming,” she said. “It’s amazing how close you get to your host families in just a week. There were lots of tears when we left.”
She and Tanoos toured a brand new school built there and learned about the Japanese school system. “It was amazing the time officials took to welcome us, spend time with us and truly have an exchange of ideas and information,” she said.
The visit was Tanoos’ first to Tajimi. The sister city exchange has been in place for many years, and he has hosted student groups from Tajimi when they have visited Terre Haute.
When he learned that Tajimi leaders were offended he has not visited, he decided it was time to go.
He learned about their school system and visited with the school superintendent and mayor. There are “tremendous differences” in schools there, with class sizes of up to 40 students, he said. At the elementary and middle school level, students keep schools clean and there are no custodians, he said. Students don’t change classes — the adults do.
High school is optional in Japan, not mandatory, Tanoos said, and those not performing at a high level academically go into the workforce. Pregnant teens don’t go to school, he said.
The Japanese are very humble and kind, Tanoos said. They are respectful to one another and respectful of their possessions.
While overseas for two weeks, he developed more of an appreciation “for how great the United States is and our educational system,” a system that works with all children and doesn’t turn any away, he said.
While in Japan, the Terre Haute delegation did several hands-on activities that included learning calligraphy and making sushi.
They visited a traditional village; dressed in kimonos (which took about an hour per person because of the layers involved); went to Shibuya, the Times Square of Tokyo; and viewed Mount Fuji.
The Japanese “are such a hard-working, positive people, it can’t help but rub off on you when you are there,” Cantin said.
One week of the trip was during the Vigo County School Corp. spring break.
King, a South junior, hopes to study abroad in Japan someday and also likes to do manga-ka, which is Japanese cartoon-style art.
Wheeler wants to teach English as a second language in Japan someday. “Since middle school, I’ve been fascinated with their culture,” she said.
A group from Tajimi, including several middle school students, will visit Terre Haute from July 28 through Aug. 7, Cantin said. “We are still looking for host families.”
Also, another group from Vigo County will visit Tajimi in spring 2016 during spring break. Those interested can email Cantin at email@example.com. She estimated the cost at about $5,000, and those who go pay their own way.
Tanoos said his trip was funded through donations and out-of-pocket.
Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or firstname.lastname@example.org.