By Chi Onyeka
On Saturday January 28th, 23 students and two leaders from Shikoku University paid the Japanese Plus group a visit on behalf of the Kakehashi Exchange program, organized by the youth exchange organization, Youth For Understanding. Shikoku University is a private university located in the Tokushima prefecture in Japan. The students spent a little bit less than a week in DC while visiting various places, such as historical sites, museums, and schools.
In Class Experience
When the Shikoku students arrived, we had to introduce ourselves and after introductions, they presented powerpoints about the Tokushima Prefecture in which Shikoku University is located. Then they set up various stations including Yukata (a style of traditional dressing), Japanese tea or Ocha, calligraphy where our names were written in Kanji, Karate, the traditional Awa dance and my personal favorite, the Origami station. After we completed the stations, they gave us many gifts and with hopes to be able to contact the, I and some other students gave them our business cards.
After class, we went to Z-burger and questions were exchanged such as why we decided to start learning Japanese. When we departed, the other Japanese Plus students and I went to a Bingata Festival. As a side note, we all left with at least two bags of fries because after they finished their burgers, they were full so they gave us their fries because they wouldn’t be able to take them along and we were just overwhelmed with the amount of fries we had to eat!
The next day, Sunday, I and four other students met up with the students at Arlington National Cemetery. Funny story, Bryson Torgovitsky and I got lost trying to find them and we went all the way up the hill not knowing that we passed them and we met them around the middle of the hill. Once we found them we looked at a bunch of war artifacts and visited various important tombs, like the burial site of President Kennedy.
Afterwards, we went to Pentagon Mall for lunch and it was there that I heard the best question of the weekend that completely baffled me, was: How do I feel with Trump as our President? I didn’t know how to answer the question because I didn’t want to glorify America, nor did I want to demoralize it because I didn’t want to sound conceited, but it was their first time visiting and I didn’t want to just rant about it so I just said “It is what it is, and four years to come, there’ll be another election”.
It was at our next stop that the kindest thing was done. First things first, we went to a Japanese New Year’s festival and they had a lot of performances, food (it’s also where I had my first ramune, yummy!) and games. So I wanted to play a game that required a ticket so I whipped out $5 to pay for three tickets to find that one of the students paid for Bryson and I to play the game! I was so grateful and afterwards I just felt in so much debt from all the gifts, food, and experiences I had gotten from them in the past weekend. At the time I really didn’t know how to thank them.
As said before, I really didn’t know how to thank the students for their kindness. I wasn’t the only one. After the New Year’s festival, I went to Ana Nguyen’s house to make gifts for them including candies and little notes expressing our gratefulness. They had previously complained about how long it took them to make the boxes and I was reluctant to believe them because I thought “How hard could it be to make and fill up 27 boxes?”
Once I got permission from my mom, I bought my sweet contribution and headed on over to her house. Daniel Ruiz and another friend of theirs had been working since morning and just finished making the boxes and lids when I arrived. I got there around 5 in the afternoon and didn’t leave until 10 at night. Apparently it was that hard to make and fill 27 boxes. In total, 14 hours were spent making the presents for the students. We didn’t want to just buy them something to take home because they would already have that initiative since this was their first time visiting the US. We also decided to make them at home because we learned in class one day about how much the Japanese valued homemade gifts.
To be honest, the next day, the 14 hours we slaved making the boxes was totally worth every second. The looks on their faces couldn’t have been made just buying them something and putting it in a gift bag. We took a lot of selfies together and one final picture before our last departure. The only thing that made me feel bad was that they gave me even more things before we left! I still feel in debt to them but I can do nothing but hope they had an amazing time in the United States.