2011 Exchange – Changes

We had a great delayed trip to Kyoto. After many challenges and delays we had a group of ten students that went to Kyoto this summer. We were able to do a lot more things with the smaller group. It was very warm and humid in Kyoto in June. The students had two weekends with their host families (usually they only have one in April). Overall, it was a wonderful experience for everyone.

There’s all new administration at Modesto City Schools. There’s a new Superintendent, a new person who has move into my old job (Director of Technology), a new teacher responsible for the Kyoto summer program, and a new administrator who is responsible for this exchange program. While I will likely remain involved with this program from the perspective of the University, it is time to pass the torch for this blog. A new blog with a new name will be starting up soon. I will post a link to it when it is launched.

I’ve had a great time over the past five years sharing our experiences with this program here on this blog. I look forward to seeing where this program goes with new leadership, and an expanded support group to make it the best that it can be.

Thank you to everyone I’ve worked with over the past five years on this project, it’s been one of the best and most challenging things I’ve done in my life.

Wheels Up!

The time is quickly approaching for our trip to Kyoto. After many challenges and delays, we are finally going to go. We were originally scheduled to go on April 5th. The US State Department lifted their travel ban on April 1st, but we needed to wait for things to settle down in Japan. We did not want to impose or be a burden on our host families. We will now be experiencing Kyoto in the Summer. No blossoms this time, and a lot of heat and humidity. It should be a whole new experience.

We only have about half of the students we started out with back before Christmas. We had a lot of seniors who already had travel plans for post-graduation life. It’s all good. With a smaller group we will be able to cover more ground, get in and out of places, and in general have an easier and more enjoyable trip. And amazingly enough, we’ve got a balanced group of male and female students, and a School Board Member and her family traveling with us. This should be a very memorable trip.

We have two weekends this year in Kyoto. The adults and my son Mark are planning on going to both Tokyo and Hiroshima on the bullet train (separate days of course).

We will post daily blog updates during the trip. We will be going to a lot of new places this time, even a flea market as one of the temples that happens every month on a certain day.

The students from Kyoto Gakuen will be following us back only four days after we return for a three week summer program in Modesto. This year in addition to their multimedia afternoon class, they will be getting a morning ESL (English as a Second Language) class. This class is the first tangible result of a partnership between CSU Stanislaus, Modesto City Schools, and Kyoto Gakuen. The class will be taught by three graduates from CSU Stanislaus, and there will be twelve grad students supporting both the morning and afternoon classes for credit in their TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) program. Many positive things are to come from this partnership for all involved. This is only the beginning.

All Clear for US Citizens in Japan

CNN has an article today about US Families that were evacuated in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami. A quote from the article:

“Based on the much reduced rate of heat generation in the reactor fuel after one month of cooling and the corresponding decay of short-lived radioactive isotopes, even in the event of an unexpected disruption at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, harmful exposures to people beyond the 50-mile evacuation zone are highly unlikely,” the embassy statement said.

Opening Ceremony @ Kyoto Gakuen

Today was opening day at Kyoto Gakuen High School, the first day of school. This is the day that the visiting Modesto students are usually introduced to the Kyoto student body. It is where both students and administrators make speeches about the partnership between our schools. And it is where the friendships between our schools are celebrated. This year the tone was completely different from the past 20 years, and the Modesto students were noticeably absent from the ceremony.


It only seems right that the person who started this exchange program back when he was the principal at Beyer High School was able to give his last speech to the assembled student body prior to his retirement this June. Chris Flesuras (MCS Deputy Superintendent) stood in the sun with the cherry blossoms as his backdrop and spoke to the students about this continued partnership between the schools, and how this year the Modesto students had to postpone their visit until Summer due to the earthquake and tsunami.


Ruben Villalobos (MCS School Board Member) grew up in a family that supported exchange programs. He himself went on several exchanges as a student, and was host to others over the years. He gave a speech to the assembled student body about the extraordinary events that unfolded over the past month, and the delay of the Modesto student’s visit to Kyoto.

Ruben has been hard at work since the earthquake fund raising for the tsunami relief in Japan. He received donations from over 60 people in Modesto. He recently had a lobster, crab and prawn feed at his house to raise funds to donate to Kyoto Gakuen’s efforts to aid those affected by this disaster. Here he humbly gives the donations to Principal Sasai at the Opening Ceremony in front of the assembled student body with Chris Flesuras watching on.

There were also declarations from the Modesto City Schools Board and others to be given to the school in recognition of our ongoing partnership and cultural exchanges that take place every year.

This trip serves to strengthen the bonds between our schools in light of recent events. While the student’s exchange had to be rescheduled for June, it was important for Modesto City Schools to hold to our commitments and be there with these representatives to welcome the new students to Kyoto Gakuen and to participate in the Opening Ceremony at the start of the school year for Kyoto Gakuen.

Tomorrow Ruben will be “Skyping” in to participate in an extended Board Meeting back in Modesto. Chris and Ruben will be returning to Modesto on Tuesday after a week’s stay in Kyoto. We look forward to hearing more about their trip and getting to see more pictures. It is a relief to see that life in Kyoto continues and that their historic city was spared damage from the earthquakes of the past month.

We start planning for our rescheduled June exchange trip this week. The students are very relieved that all is well in Kyoto and that their friends eagerly await their arrival in June.

Respect for Personal Property in Japan

I’ve traveled to Japan twice now, and would have been there with a group of high school students today if the trip had not been rescheduled for late June because of the earthquake and tsunami. One of the things that has really impressed me about Japan is the respect shown for other people and their personal property. This is something that has long since been lost here in the States.

While in Japan I’ve had students leave cameras on park benches and in restaurants, cell phones, shoes, bento boxes, and even wallets in strange places. In almost all cases we are either able to go back to the location and find the item still sitting there. Other times the train company has shipped shoes back to the student, other personal items have been returned to the school or sent to where the students are staying. I’ve always wondered how this is so deeply rooted in Japanese culture.

Well, today I stumbled on an article at the CNN website that gives an even better example of the respect that is so deeply rooted in Japanese culture.

Japanese citizens turning in cash found in tsunami zone

In that article they talk about how children are trained at an early age to turn in found items to the police department:

Japanese children, from a young age, are taught to turn in any lost items, including cash, to police stations. The cultural practice of returning lost items and never keeping what belongs to a stranger has meant police departments like Tokyo’s Metropolitan have an entire warehouse filled with lost shoes, umbrellas and wallets.”

There is so much other cultures can learn from how the Japanese have dealt with the aftermath of this disaster.

Kyoto Sightseeing

It’s the weekend and the group in Kyoto is out sightseeing. Here are Ruben Villalobos (MCS Board Member) and Westley Field (founder of the Skoolaborate Project, Australia) in Arashiyama. They were buying postcards from an artist in the bamboo forest area.

And here they are crossing the Togetsukyo Bridge.

Tomorrow is the Opening Ceremony for Kyoto Gakuen. I’ve been promised some pictures from that ceremony to post to the blog, as well as a few from the Welcoming Ceremony this past Friday.

Kyoto Welcoming Ceremony

Here are Chris Flesuras (left: Modesto City Schools Deputy Superintendent) and Ruben Villalobos (MCS School Board) at Kyoto Gakuen High School prior to the Welcoming Ceremony on Friday. Ruben delivered the speech at the Welcoming Ceremony honoring the relationship between Kyoto Gakuen and Modesto City Schools, and welcoming the new junior high and high school students to KG. On Monday Chris and Ruben will be speaking at the Opening Ceremony with the entire student body of Kyoto Gakuen. Both carried documents from local government and the MCS School Board recognizing this long standing relationship between the schools that Chris started when he was the principal at Beyer High School over 20 years ago. Ruben will also be delivering monies raised in various events to KG for their efforts to assist those affected by the earthquake and tsunami that hit the northern part of Japan.

Ruben is posting pictures from his visit to Kyoto on his Facebook page.