Spring Break Modesto to Kyoto Student Exchange Trip

Anyone who frequents this site has noticed that I’ve been away for a bit, not too many updates these days. The first big delay was our move from an independent project to our merger with Skoolaborate. This took place when school came back into session back in August. Getting all the new procedures in place and getting all the new students (over 200 this year) online was a challenge. This past month most of my free time has been spent trying to get the exchange trips from Modesto to Kyoto reestablished.

Back in 2001 after the terrorist attacks on the U.S. trips from Modesto to Kyoto ceased due to safety concerns of parents. The Japanese also terminated all travel to the states for a few years after those attacks. However, several years later Kyoto Gakuen started to send students to the U.S. again. Now that we are in the second year of the PacRimX Project, demand from both Kyoto Gakuen and the parents of students here in Modesto have demanded that we start the exchanges back up for Modesto students to travel to Japan.

In April, during Spring Break, I will be taking Modesto 20 students to Kyoto for an eight day exchange trip. School starts up in April in Kyoto and we will be there for the first day of the new school year. A teacher from one of our high schools will be the other chaperone for this trip. Most of the students that have signed up are involved in the PacRimX Project. A few are students who hosted Kyoto students this past summer or back in October. They are specifically asking for placement of their students with those that they hosted.

Over the past month I’ve had the opportunity to talk to many area families who have hosted Kyoto students over the years. In almost all cases there have been long term bonds formed between these families. Many bring students back for longer visits over the summer, others send their children to Japan, and almost every single family maintains a close relationship over phone and through the Internet.

Week before last a large box arrived from Kyoto filled with small Christmas gifts. They are all neatly wrapped in Japanese paper with little notes attached. These are intended for a gift exchange between the Modesto students signed up for this exchange and their Kyoto counterparts. Today and tomorrow I have parents and students dropping off small wrapped gifts that will be shipped to Kyoto. Because we only recently got our list of students established, our gift exchange will have to wait until January. The students will draw presents and open them up via a live video conference link between our schools. This will also serve as the first formal introduction between the exchange students from Modesto and the Kyoto students we will be visiting.

The really great part is that this summer many of these same Kyoto students will be coming to Modesto for four weeks to attend a multimedia summer school class in Modesto. This means that most of these students will get to meet in person twice in one year, once in Kyoto and then again this summer in Modesto.

We have a private website that has already gone online for this Spring Break exchange. All parents and students have accounts to access it. We are making this our primary source of communication running up to this trip. I’ve got a Wiki started with information about the places we will visit, customs, etiquette and what to expect. Each of the students will be given rights to have a blog on this site. During the trip students will be able to post updates and pictures for people back home, and parents can post replies to their son or daughter’s blog. I’m sure we will accumulate a lot of video and stills from this trip, and I will make certain that we post a few albums on Flickr with the best of these pictures.

We had wanted to do this first exchange back to Kyoto last year, but the changes in passports and other issues prevented it from happening last year. With the budget crisis out here in California right now, it almost didn’t happen again. I am so thankful to the supportive parents, our sister school in Kyoto, and our school board here in Modesto for seeing the value of this trip and moving it forward so we can get this fine tradition reestablished. I’ve met every one of the students that are signed up for this exchange, and have worked with many of them over the past two years in the PacRimX Project. I am thankful for the honor of being allowed to lead this group of students to Kyoto. It will be a trip of a lifetime that is already inspiring some of them to learn Japanese culture, traditions and some of the language.

Follow along here at this blog for updated info and a flood of firsthand accounts and photos after we return in April. It’s going to be a great experience for all involved!

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