This article originally appeared in the winter 2015 Harker Quarterly.
This year marked the 20th anniversary of the middle school visit between Harker and Tamagawa Academy in Tokyo, which has become a pillar of Harker’s global education program. In addition to giving students and faculty the chance to venture abroad and experience another culture, the relationship between the two schools has resulted in many new friendships.
“It’s amazing to celebrate the 20th anniversary,” said Tamagawa’s Michiko Horikane, an English teacher who has led the Tamagawa-to-Harker trip 17 times. Each trip yields something new to be discovered, she said, adding that she has always been impressed by the enthusiasm and hospitality of Harker’s students and faculty. “Tamagawa students can learn a lot of things through this exchange,” she added. “They are impressed with the kindness and hospitality, and they can learn how to express themselves and build friendships.”
In mid-October, 28 Tamagawa students in grade 5 came for a ve-day visit, during which they stayed with Harker sixth graders. They received a very warm welcome, being presented with a Halloween-themed cake commemorating the “20 years of friendship” between the two schools. Harker students lined up to greet their buddies with handmade signs displaying their buddy’s name written in Japanese. After being matched up with one another, each pair of students took a photo in front of a Halloween-themed backdrop before heading off to a special lunch.
The ensuing week was packed with activity, as Tamagawa students and their Harker buddies enjoyed a scavenger hunt, made T-shirts and created origami sculptures. Tamagawa students also headed to the lower school campus to read to a class of Harker’s younger students. Some time was also set aside for the Tamagawa students to meet and interact with Harker’s fth graders.
The Tamagawa students attended classes with their Harker buddies to get a sense of what day-to-day life is like for Harker students. They also participated in a number of classes, including Elizabeth Saltos’ art class and Gail Palmer’s dance class. Tamagawa student Miori Yoneyama remarked on the politeness she experienced from Harker’s teachers and how it made the classroom experience delightful despite the language barrier. “I did not understand the classes in English, but there were a variety of teachers – enthusiastic teachers, and the teacher who showed interesting videos through YouTube,” she recalled via a translation by Harker upper school Japanese teacher Yumiko Aridomi. “All these teachers talked to us nicely.”
The Tamagawa guests enjoyed many off-campus outings as well, including a visit to Cucina Bambini, a local children’s cooking school, to learn how to make American cuisine. That same day, the students headed to The Tech Museum, one of Silicon Valley’s popular tourist attractions.
After the Tamagawa students returned home, Harker students looked back fondly on the time they had spent with their newfound friends. Kavita Murthy said the visit gave her the opportunity to learn about the greatly varying personalities of the Tamagawa students. She reminisced about the time she spent with her buddy, Sayana, who greatly enjoyed both Japanese and Western cuisines, treating her to “both Japanese and Italian-American restaurants.” She also mentioned being proud to be part of such a momentous anniversary. “I felt special knowing that this exchange has been going on for a while and I had the honor to participate in it. This was a very fun exchange for both buddies!”
“It made me feel special because it was fun to learn about how they lived and learn more about their traditions,” said Harker student Syna Gogte. “I hope to learn more when I [visit Tamagawa in the spring semester].”
Malar Bala was thankful for the opportunity to spend time and bond with someone who spoke a different language. “This Tamagawa visit was a very unique experience,” she said. “It helped me understand how I could still make friends and enjoy my time with someone who doesn’t even speak the same language as me. I felt honored to participate in this exchange. The 20th anniversary is a big deal.”
Aside from her memorable experiences with Harker teachers, Yoneyama said she also enjoyed visiting the Golden Gate Bridge with her buddy. “I had not walked on such a big bridge,” she said. “I took a lot of pictures in the middle of the bridge, and it became the highlight of my homestay.” She added that she hopes to take her buddy to a similarly interesting Japanese landmark one day.
Upon seeing how Harker’s students had developed their time-management skills, Tamagawa student Hinano Yajima said she wished to learn how to manage her time more effectively as well. “I saw people buying snacks at the store and having fun during the recess, but they all went to their classrooms when the bell rang,” she recalled. “I thought that I must be more punctual and draw the line between play time and study time like Harker students.”
Yajima also fondly remembered after-school activities such as visiting an arcade and an outing to a local amusement park. “When my buddy comes to Japan to visit me in May, I would love to host her with the utmost hospitality,” she said.
“When we visited Harker for the first time, we brought six boys and six girls,” said Horikane, alluding to how much the program has grown in the past two decades. “Since then, we have been trying to arrange a better program every year.”