Japanese Students Visit During Annual Arlington-Nagaokakyo Exchange Program

The annual visit of students from Arlington’s sister city Nagaokakyo, Japan for 10 days during Golden Week is always a joy. This year 16 eighth and ninth grade students and their chaperones were welcomed into 19 volunteer host families for activities, sightseeing, and cultural exchanges with elementary, middle, and high school students

In preparation for the visit, Program Manager Joanne Routenberg held an orientation for the hosts so that they could meet, ask questions, understand the expectations, and review the upcoming visit schedule. Each attendee also received a “paddle” with the picture of the guest they would be hosting. The paddles made it easy for the visitors to connect with their hosts at their first event–a reception held at Ms. Routenberg’s home shortly after they arrived on April 25. This kicked-off a jam-packed schedule that began the next day with activities that included tours of Wilson Farm and Fenway Park bookended by breakfast and dinner with their host families.

The first of several cultural exchanges with Arlington students began with a visit to Dallin on April 27. All grades participated in a school assembly that opened with greetings from Principal Thad Dingman and Superintendent Dr. Elizabeth Homan and included remarks from the visiting Japanese educators, a student leader, and a gift exchange. Dallin students shared joy poems that they had written, the Chorus sang, and Performing Arts Director Jing-Huey Wei led a singalong. The Japanese students presented five songs, and the group was treated to a guitar performance by Principal Dingman. 

The Japanese visitors then spent time in the second grade classrooms where they shared origami and calligraphy and introduced the Kendama, a wooden skill toy popular in Japan. Fifth grade Dallin students led the visitors on tours of the school that included a pizza lunch. The students and their chaperones departed for an afternoon of activities in Boston that included the Freedom Trail, Swan Boat rides, and a trip to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

Other school visits followed throughout the week. The schedule at Arlington High School included a pancake breakfast, an assembly that included songs in Japanese and English, attendance at English Language Arts and Physical Education classes, and lunch. A similar exchange was held at Ottoson with an assembly in the morning, remarks by Assistant Superintendent Dr. Roderick McNeal, musical performances, and matches with OMS students for classroom visits. There was a short trip to Minuteman Regional HIgh School that included making breakfast together.

Each school visit day was also packed with local sightseeing that included Harvard Square, a visit to ACMi studios, Eagles Restaurant, Quincy Market, Kimball Farms, Rockport, Lexington, and Concord. The group even stopped in on an Arlington Town Meeting!  Additionally, time was provided to attend a Red Sox Game and for the visitors to spend a day individually with their host families. The group returned to Japan after a potluck dinner provided by the hosts and a ceremony that included awards and a photo-booth.

Next year marks the 40th anniversary of the Arlington-Nagaokakyo Sister City relationship and the twentieth anniversary of the student exchange program. The young people who came were chosen from a pool of 68 students who applied and are considered goodwill ambassadors that strengthen the friendship between our two communities. Each is required to attend study sessions in preparation for the trip.

Ms. Routenberg reports that the exchange is a wonderful experience for the visitors and host families, and everyone had a great time. The Wilson Farm tour was especially enjoyed, and there was always enthusiasm for shopping excursions! Ms. Routenberg works to build community between the host families over the years, and repeats are common–eight of this year’s hosts had participated in prior years.The exchange program is quite unique, and the next trip of Arlington students and adults to Nagaokayko will take place in 2024. It is a wonderful tool that can lead to a love of travel, global friendships, and the development  of independence in the young people who participate. Please contact Ms Routenberg at [email protected] or 617-820-8429.