All good things have to come to an end. We knew time was running out and nobody wanted to leave. The last day was upon us, and we had until 1:00pm before we had to board the shuttle buses and head out to Osaka to catch our plane home. The students all started arriving at the school with luggage in hand.
And the first goodbye began with the families as they dropped off the students they hosted.
The chaperones went to the morning meeting of all of the teachers to say our farewells and thank you.
The students started to gather in the theater, showing off some of the things they had been given while in Japan. The coolest were memory books some of them carried given to them by their host families.
Because of the delayed summer school for the Kyoto students, and the short time between their visit to Modesto and ours to Kyoto, these students had spent a total of four and a half weeks together over just a few short months. That resulted in many close friendships and sad goodbyes.
The first group of students we met with were the ones who had come to Modesto. They showed us a few videos they had prepared for us, and each of our students got up with the mic and told everyone about their experiences in Kyoto during this trip.
These students had to go back to class, so they ran off promising to see us off in front of the schools a few hours later. The next group of students who came in to meet us were the students coming for summer school in July. This was their first contact with our students, one that would kick off a year of interactions ending with our visit to them next April during Spring Break (with a different group of Modesto students).
It was then time for these students to go back to class and for us to go and each our last meal in Kyoto at the school cafeteria. In the US this may sound like cruel punishment, but the cafeteria food in Kyoto is amazingly good.
While walking to the front of the school to get our luggage and load up the shuttle buses the grandfather of the student who hosted my son drove up on a scooter holding a bag. He was coming to give a gift to my son, model he had seen the night before downtown at a mall while out with the family for the last night. My son was completely surprised and appreciated the effort that was made to get this and bring it to him at the school. He really grew close to his family while here and had a hard time saying goodbye. I was happy to meet this grandfather who I had already heard stories about. The father and brother of the host family he stayed with showed up out front before we got on the bus, as did many others of the other students.
There were many sad goodbyes. Even some of my students who swore they would not cry were shedding tears as the time finally arrived that we had to leave.
And as we were loading the buses three of the Modesto students jumped up to say one more farewell to the group assembled to see us off.
And then it was time to leave.
It was a long ride back to the airport, and no stopping for a break in the middle because the farewells took so long back at the school.
And then we had 9 hours to reflect back on our visit to Kyoto. Since this trip I’ve heard from many of the students. I’ve heard stories of how they are still keeping in touch with their friends in Kyoto. I’ve heard stories from others about how this trip has changed their life, and their plans for what they were going to do in the future. And with my own son, I’ve seen a shift in his priorities, and change in his attitude, and a change of plans for what he’s going to do in college and after (he hopes to return to Kyoto Gakuen after graduation to teach English for a year).
This trip, and all the other activities that take place all year round related to this program, take a lot of work and a lot of personal investment. Over the past four years the program has expanded to take in more teachers, more administrators, and more students. The district continues to support the program, and it has recently been recognized by others in our County Office of Education. The one thing that draws these people to this program is the impact it has in our students. And after all, isn’t that what we all got into this for in the first place?
Next exchange will be the arrival of the Kyoto students on July 2nd for their three week summer school. This year we will be splitting the group into two groups at two schools with two different teachers running classes for video production and digital still photography. This is going to be fun.