BY MATT MACKINDER
Clarkston News Staff Writer
For one week every school year, a handful of students from Japan make the trek from their homeland to spend time in Clarkston as part of a student exchange program.
The program has been in existence since 2000 and has been spearheaded by CHS Japanese teacher Faye Valtadoros since 2006, who says the partnership is a win-win for all involved.
“I see my students when they host the Japanese students, and they connect really well,” said Valtadoros. “They become friends. I have a student who hosted a girl 12 years ago, and they’re still in touch and still visit each other. They consider each other family. It’s good to see because that right there is a true international exchange. That’s the purpose of this exchange program.”
This year, 16 tenth-grade students from the town of Chiba, located about 19 miles southeast of Tokyo, stayed in Clarkston for the week of March 17-24 with host families. While here, they went to classes at the high school, gave presentations to Valtadoros’ students and immersed themselves in the Northern Oakland County town, which included going to area restaurants, going bowling, and playing laser tag. Trips to Detroit and Frankenmuth were also on the agenda.
“The school’s students are very friendly,” said Takuya Nakajima. “When I tell a joke, everybody laughs. This school is very huge and my school in Japan is little. We wear uniforms in Japan and the rules here are freer.”
When asked what his favorite part of the visit was, Tomohiro Kameda said, “the school bus.”
In Japan, students take trains to and from school; driving to school is rare and there are no school buses.
Kameda added that “the bus here takes you right to school. In Japan, we make stops and I change trains twice on the way to school. It takes about an hour.”
One notable culture change from Japan to the United States is the food.
“Food portions here are huge,” said Nakajima. “You get a lot of food. Also, you don’t tip in Japan.”
Clarkston High School Sophomore Marco Petrucci said having the students in school has given him friends for life, and he can’t wait to go to Japan this summer with Valtadoros and 17 other students.
“I think this is a great cultural experience, being able to show someone what your life is like and then seeing their reactions,” Petrucci said. “Some of them have never had great snacks or great foods. Like (March 20), we went to a barbecue. The pork, the grits, they’ve never had that stuff. I think it’s so cool to have two cultures combined together and making good friendships out of it. This is awesome.
“I think it will be even more fun when we go to Japan and get to experience their lives and see how their schools are, their households, their foods, their daily lives.”
One of the teachers from Chiba, Masahiko Kato, said one noticeable difference between schools in Japan and the United States are safety measures. With school shootings becoming an unfortunate part of modern-day American society, (name) said that doesn’t exist in Japan.
“We still have minor problems, like drugs,” Kato said. “Whenever we have accidents, or fights among students, if it’s severe and someone gets injured, we call the police, but that happens rarely. Before I came here, I heard a lot about shootings in high schools on the news. That would never happen in Japan because in Japan, you’re not allowed to carry guns. Gangsters carry guns, but that’s not something we have to worry about.”
Valtadoros added that the crime rate in Japan is very low and when a crime is committed, the criminals are more often times than not caught at a faster rate than in the U.S.
She also said that if the topic of World War II and Pearl Harbor comes up, there is no malice involved, and “it’s just a discussion.”
Overall, experiencing different cultures and forming a bond is what the exchange program yields year after year, complete with home stays in Japan like the Japanese students experience in Clarkston.
“This week seems like it’s so long, but it goes by so fast,” said Valtadoros. “We keep busy. Before we go over there, the students have work to do. The Japanese do presentations in English and when we go there, we do presentations in Japanese, which is a lot of work, a lot of preparation. By the time we get there, they’re going to have everything done – I can guarantee that.
“It’s really exciting and I like to see the kids that are hosting kids this year go to Japan and see those bonds become even stronger.”