Exchange of Culture: High School Students from Okinawa Japan Visit MHS

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By Lindsey Scott
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(Photo courtesy of Roxanne Campbell) Host family member Briana Campbell (12, left) with Okinawan exchange students Riki Uehara (middle) and Sora Miyake (right) came to Hawaii to experience Hawaiian and American culture, and share their own.

High school students from Okinawa, Japan visited MHS on Feb. 21 and from March 1 to 3. In order for the students to get the real American experience, they were hosted by local families while also shadowing MHS students, facilitating an immersive exchange of cultures.

“I think it’s sort of two fold. We’d like for the Okinawa students to sort of get a glimpse into high school in America. At the same time we’d like our students to have the opportunity to interact with someone from another country, learn about not only their language, but their culture and just make contact with someone from the outside and see what it’s like for them,” said Japanese and Heritage teacher Corey Zukeran.

The process in which students in Okinawa had to go through in order to come to Hawaii was arduous. “You know I’m not too familiar with the process in Okinawa, but I know it’s a fairly rigorous process, it’s (sort of) like prefecture wide in Okinawa, so from the prefecture they seek students who are interested in coming to Hawaii and I know it’s competitive. There’s probably an (essay) and interview I think. That is what I’ve heard in the past. It’s usually fairly competitive. And then I’m sure there’s a committee that selects students to come,” said Zukeran.

The students from Okinawa and their host families shared experiences that neither will forget. “From my past experiences, students who host as well as students who come to visit have gained lots of experience that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to get. For the Okinawa students, being able to spend just about two weeks in Hawaii at no cost. I think their government funds their travel. Being able to live with an American family, seeing what kind of things they do, foods they eat. So they’ll take back those memories,” said Zukeran. Sora Miyake, a student from Okinawa recognized differences between American and Okinawan education systems. “At my old school I had a designated class where we move within the classes, but we don’t really leave the class to go, or the classroom to go anywhere. But here, because you have to move from class to class, it seems really taxing,” stated Miyake.

Because of the nature of the exchange program, both the MHS students and students from Okinawa learn about the other’s culture. “For the American students, they sort of get to make contact with someone from the outside and learn a little bit about their culture, depending on how much questioning they do. In the past I’ve noticed that students usually form friendships and sometimes those friendships last, much longer than the short duration of the program,” said Zukeran. “For the students who are hosting, they are usually given priority on the exchange, so when Hawaii sends students to Okinawa, they are usually given priority. On that end they get an opportunity to go to Okinawa and see what it’s like so that’s usually a very positive experience. In the past we’ve had several students who have gone on the exchange, so they’ve always had good things to say about their experiences when they go to Okinawa.” Naviance Advisor and Transition Coordinator Roxanne Campbell added, “It’s interesting to hear their language, see how they communicate and it’s just fun to take them to different spots on the island. It’s like (playing) tourist for a little while.”

With families continuing to host Okinawa students and the Hawaii United Okinawa Association planning the cultural enriching program, MHS can look forward to more visits from students.