Warrior youth ambassadors reflect upon experience in Japan
November 21, 2014
For two weeks in June, 23 Warriors served as youth ambassadors in Japan and received hands on experience in foreign affairs.
The trip lasted ten days, in which students traveled to different museums and historic sites such as a castle in Okinawa or the infamous Museum of technology in Tokyo. I was one of the students lucky enough to receive this privilege. For the first three days, students experienced life in Tokyo. Then, we boarded a flight to the island of Okinawa for four days. Two days out of four, we stayed with a host family and visited their high school, Futenma High. Soon after, we boarded a flight to Tokyo and spent the remaining three days sightseeing and preparing our return to America.
“The trip was extremely life changing and an experience I will treasure for the rest of my life,” junior Jake Byrd stated.
The Japanese government funded the entire trip. We did not pay a single dime unless we wanted to purchase extra snacks or souvenirs. The Japanese government provided us with hotels, three meals a day, tickets to visit various attractions, and all transportation.
“I’ve never been able to afford a trip like this, because it’s so expensive. It was kind of like my chance to go to a different part of the world and experience a completely different culture,” junior Melissa Hines said.
Preparing for the Trip
Weeks before the trip Japanese teacher Mr. Yamamoto gathered students for meetings concerning trip matters. We discussed our travel dates, room assignments, and created a presentation for Futenma High. However, no one knew our exact flight time until a week before departure. No one knew which hotels we would board in until a few days prior to leaving. The most alarming part of it all was that students were unaware who their host families would be until three days prior beforehand. Parents stressed over where their children would stay, and some even considered dropping the program.
“It was weird that we did not get all our information until a few days before we left,” senior Amelia Seay commented.
Students could only attend this fully paid trip if NC staff deemed them worthy. Teachers nominated students they deemed responsible enough to represent our school. Out of the selected students, Yamamoto narrowed down and chose 23 exceptional students. These students then filled out various online applications to decide if they were qualified to travel.
Arriving in Tokyo
Upon arrival, students immediately checked into their first hotel. We only had thirty minutes to relax and freshen up before traveling by bus to dinner. The first dinner in Tokyo was quite strange, as not many people were used to eating raw foods and snails. It was everyone’s least favorite meal.
“The bento box was very interesting. I did not like it very much. I got to try a snail which was… different. But I also got to try real ramen later in the trip and it was amazing,” Hines said, remembering the very first meal.
Despite a rocky first night, the next day in Japan ran smoothly, consisting of a trip to the Tokyo National Museum and a visit around Tokyo, including the beautiful Meiji-jingu Shrine. Students also attended a small greeting for all the Kakehashi participants to meet one another and socialize. Since most of the schools stayed in one hotel, it was easy to meet new people and converse with students from schools all around America.
“Futenma high school had a wonderful ceremony to greet us, we all felt really loved the minute we entered the school,” junior Rebekah Roepoke said
Arriving in Okinawa
On the third day, students boarded a flight from Tokyo to Okinawa, arriving around 10 am. Upon arrival, students ate lunch and toured the city before attending a courtesy call on the Okinawa Prefectural Governor, where students toured another museum displaying the nature and history of Okinawa. Afterwards, students piled onto their bus and moved to Shurijo Castle where students basked in the ancient beauty. After the visit to Shurijo Castle, students moved to Shikina-en Park, where we explored the island’s natural beauty. Students took part in several shopping trips throughout the day to buy souvenirs and visit Okinawan shops.
“My favorite part of the entire trip was shopping in the Okinawan markets,” Seay said.
The next day on Okinawa consisted of the trip to Futenma high school. The Futenma High School assembled into their theater and gave the Warriors a warm welcome. Students met with their host students and shadowed them for their last two classes before they headed to the homestay. The homestay consisted of two nights and two days where warriors experienced the Japanese lifestyle and formed close bonds with their Okinawan family. Most students agree that the homestay was their favorite part of the trip.
My homestay experience was amazing. The people I stayed made sure I had a good time and even gave me a traditional Japanese kimono. It was so touching and sweet. ”
— junior Rileigh McCoy
Students returned to their hotel on Sunday afternoon and spent the remainder of their day visiting Kazaku-takadai park and then the US Consul-General in Okinawa. There, we listened to the US Conul-General speak about his time in Okinawa and his hopes for the Kakehashi Project. On our last day in Okinawa, students visited the Okinawa Prefectural Peace Memorial Museum and Park before we returned to Tokyo.
“Okinawa was beautiful, and even though we were in a foreign country, all the American military bases there made us feel at home,” McCoy commented.
Back to Tokyo
On our first day back in Tokyo, we visited the Edo Tokyo Museum, the national diet, and a courtesy call on the ministry of Foreign Affairs. We were able to view the courts of Tokyo and even sit in the actual courtroom where actual foreign affair hearings were held. During the night, many students went with Mr. Yamamoto to explore downtown Tokyo and visit various shops.
“One night as we came back to the hotel, Mr. Yamamoto decided to take us on the subway to downtown Tokyo. It was kind of an out of the blue decision, but it was a very special part of the trip,” junior Jake Byrd said.
Many students agree that their last day in Tokyo was their favorite. We visited the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation where we saw actual robots and experienced a whole new level of technology. We visited to the Meiji-jingu Shrine and then took a trip around Tokyo, shopping in the Harajuko area. We visited a huge shopping mall before we returned to our hotel for a debriefing. On June 19th, students said a heartfelt goodbye to the country they grew to adore and boarded the plane to return to America, waiting for the next chance to see their Okinawan host student.
Okinawans Arriving at North Cobb
Months passed and soon Okinawan students walked through North Cobb’s doors on Saturday October 25. The reunion was fun-filled with various games, food, and drinks. After bonding with the Okinawan host students, we headed home to begin the homestay. The Japanese students stayed with us through Saturday, Sunday, Monday, and left on Tuesday.
On Saturday, some students took their host students to Halloween related festivities, zip lining, trekking, and out to restaurants. On Sunday, many students attended Owl-O-Ween held at Kennesaw State University. On Monday night, North Cobb held a banquet for the Japanese students, complete with Okinawan traditional dances along with after the Japanese students made a fun filled presentation about Japanese life.
“I really enjoyed the time I spent with my host student here. We got along really well,” Seay commented.
The Japan trip provided endless fun and an experience that students will remember for a lifetime. Many students entered a foreign country, but left with love for it.
“I definitely want to go back to Japan one day. I’d like to take my family there,” Hines said.