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Local students make favorable impression on Japanese hosts

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Five Enumclaw High School students and teacher Kim Hatzenbeler recently returned from Higashimurayama, Japan, as the second part of an exchange program.

The first part began in April, when five Japanese high school students and a teacher came to EHS for a 10-day visit. They lived with Plateau-area families and went to school with their host sisters. The exchange teacher also attended Enumclaw High classes, but also went to Enumclaw Middle School for a day and took a field trip to Seattle with EHS’s now-defunct Enumclaw Adventure School.

Hatzenbeler said the Japanese visitors were, “most intrigued by how the American teachers would walk around and work with students one on one.” She said Tomoki Nagano, the exchange teacher, was impressed with how American students were willing to volunteer and defend their opinions in class.

“The principal there has been trying to get an exchange with Enumclaw for the past 10 years,” Hatzenbeler said. A Spanish teacher, Hatzenbeler spent two years living and teaching English in Japan after graduating from college. She stepped forward to pull the cultural experience together from this side.

In July, Hatzenbeler and Enumclaw High students Kate Callison, Brianne Aoki, Stacia Bruner, Alina VanRuff and Kyana VanRuff headed to Japan, where they stayed in the homes of the same students who stayed in their homes in April. Each student and Hatzenbeler funded their own trip.

“Everyone was so excited to see each other again,” Hatzenbeler said.

The Enumclaw students spent weekdays in school with the Japanese students. In the afternoons, they rode trains into Tokyo to go shopping and visit local shrines and temples. They also went to Tokyo Disneyland. On the weekend, students had the opportunity to travel with their families. Some of the students went to Mount Fuji, Japanese hot springs, Tokyo Tower and Asakusa. Others rode in a ricksha. One student went to Niko and Hatzenbeler went to the mountain town of Hakone.

For the farewell party, Hatzenbeler said students dressed in traditional yukatas given to them by their host families. She said there was plenty of music, food and tears as everyone said goodbye.

“It is not customary for Japanese families to have visitors in their homes,” she said. “All of the families talked about how nervous they were to have a foreigner live with them for two weeks.” But, she continued, after this experience the Japanese families said they would host exchanges students again.

“I was so proud of our high school students,” Hatzenbeler noted. “They were amazing representatives of not only Enumclaw, but also America. They were polite, open-minded, curious and kind. I couldn’t have asked to travel with a better group of students.

“Hopefully, we can continue the program and other teachers will get a chance,” Hatzenbeler said.

Reach Brenda Sexton at bsexton@courierherald.com or 360-802-8206.

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