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Students from Okinawa City ready for study tour to the U.S.

By: Kenny Ehman

Date Posted: 1998-09-04

Okinawa City is moving towards the 21st century with plans to form a sister-city relationship with Lakewood, Washington, U.S.A. The idea was conceived a few years ago, and the goal between the two cities is to officially form the relationship by the year 2000.

With Okinawa's strong tourism industry, and the growing move to diversify its economic potential with more focus on international trade, the sister-city concept with Lakewood has local government officials excited about the future. Located only a few hours outside of Seattle, the small city could open doors to different markets, offering both import and export companies a chance to expand their businesses. There are already plans for an economic study exchange, and members of the Chamber of Commerce on both ends are anticipating many future joint-projects.

As part of the sister-city plan, Okinawa City will be sending eight junior high school students over to Lakewood this year, for their first exchange study tour. One student from each of the eight junior high schools located in Okinawa City was chosen to represent their school. The group of thirteen and fourteen year olds will be the first members, of what hopes to be, an ongoing student exchange program. The students will leave on October 6, and will be returning on October 20. The two week study tour has been designed to give each one of the Okinawan children a chance to experience life in America through a stay with a host family living in Lakewood. They will also be attending English classes for two days, and regular classes at Lochburn Middle School. To help the students get around from class to class, the planning committee at Lochburn is assigning volunteer student "buddies" to each Okinawan exchange student. The "buddies" will assist them in their daily schedules, and be together with each exchange student throughout the school day.

The five boys and three girls were all chosen among a pool of applicants, which were first recommended by the principals of each one of the represented junior high schools. Some of the criteria used to select each individual included English conversation skills, an overall high academic performance, and a strong desire to learn more about American culture. All of the students are currently preparing for their trip by taking extra English classes being offered through the Okinawa City Hall.

The students will also be participating in cultural exchange activities and many other planned events. They plan to introduce "kendo", traditional Ryukyu dance, Okinawan songs, and "taiko" to the children of Lochburn Middle School, and are currently practicing for their upcoming performances. The Lochburn committee has scheduled a visit to the City Hall, a trip to the local aquarium and zoo, a tour of Pierce College, and a few other sightseeing excursions.

The two cities are hoping that next year students from Lakewood will be able to attend classes and cultural exchange activities at Okinawa City. Residents are already showing interest, and there have been many offers to provide home-stays.

Much of the planning and organizing from Lakewood has been done through the Okinawan "Kenjinkai" (Okinawan Association). Member "Tom" Seiji Irei has been one of the driving forces behind the whole sister-city plan, and is helping to spearhead the student exchange program. Lisa Lawn and Wakako Nagaoka, who work at the City Residents Communication Section for the Okinawa City Government, will be going along with the children as chaperones and supervisors.

The students, who will be attending, and their junior high schools are: Yoshikazu Shimoji (Ageda Junior High School), Ako Kan (Yamauchi Junior High School), Hidekatsu Agena (Bito Junior High School), Yoshihiro Higa (Misato Junior High School), Kazuiki Teruya (Miyazato Junior High School), Shota Nagumo (Okinawa East Junior High School), Satoe Yamashita (Goeku Junior High School), and Rino Teruya (Koza Junior High School.

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