On Tuesday, December 18th at the Nanae Culture Center, we held our final debriefing session for the 2013 autumn delegation trip to Concord. Family, friends, school principals and teachers all came to listen to this year’s delegation members talk about their experience in Concord.
This year’s delegation trip (including travel time) spanned from October 1st – 11th. The group was composed of 3 high school students, 5 middle school students and 6 adults. We spent our first 6 days in Concord, where each member stayed with a host family. After a day of sightseeing in Boston, and a night in a hotel, we boarded our return flight from Boston to Tokyo.
Below I’d like to share a recap, as well as some of my own thoughts on this year’s delegation:
When the day came to depart on this year’s delegation trip to Concord, I was feeling a little nervous. Unlike past delegations, our group had very few members who spoke English or had ever traveled to America, so I had been told I would be relied on as both a guide and translator. However, passing through security at Hakodate airport, I began to notice something that put me at ease; our group already seemed to be moving smoothly, and functioning as a single unit. Counter to my fears, the students were not straggling or drifting away from the adults, but rather, everyone seemed of a single mind and purpose, as if a natural buddy-system had enacted itself.
Having taught in Japanese schools, I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised; from a young age, Japanese students are drilled in team-oriented, cooperative activities. For example, every spring, Japanese schools hold an annual “Sports Day”, in which class sections race to complete physical challenges as a team, such as the building of a human pyramid, or synchronized team jump roping. Just watching this kind of event leaves one with the impression that team cooperation is not only a fundamental aspect of the Japanese education system, but a foundational principle within Japanese society. As a leader on the delegation, I was certainly appreciative of our group’s innate sense of unity; it made for a pleasant and worry-free transit from Hakodate to Boston.
Shortly after we arrived in America, we encountered a slightly unexpected problem. One of our delegation members had been on a trip to Guam as a child, and it appeared that the date at which he had left America hadn’t been properly recorded. Without this information, the immigration agents at the airport suspected that he might have overstayed his visa during that childhood trip. At the time our delegation landed, the U.S. Government was shut down as a result of the deadlocked budget battle in congress, so there were fewer immigration agents on hand and we were made to wait over two hours. After having waited separately, I was finally called into the agency office where, by translating for my friend and explaining the purpose of our delegation’s visit, I was able to convince the agents to let him enter the country. In the end, I’m glad it didn’t turn into a more serious problem, but I couldn’t help but feel that the immigration hang-up had given the group a bad first impression of America. As an American passport holder, I have never had problems entering any country, but this experience highlighted the difficulties for foreign passport holders traveling to America. Certainly, our immigration system could use some improvement.
After we exited Logan Airport in Boston, our schedule progressed smoothly and we were soon cruising down the Mass Pike on a yellow school bus headed for Concord Carlisle High School. At CCHS, the middle school and high school students in our group had a tasty pizza lunch and were picked up by their respective host families. In the days that followed, I stayed at the high school to provide support for the visiting students during the school day, after which we joined the adult group for sightseeing around Concord in the afternoon. Being a Concord native, I was already familiar with many of the famous and historical places around town. However, I found myself learning many new things alongside the delegation members. Our visit to the Orchard house, where we were treated to a performance by Executive Director Jan Turnquist (in character as Louisa May Alcott), was a particularly memorable highlight.
On Friday, I joined the visiting students on a tour of the CCHS television studio (CCTV) and WIQH radio station . At the CCTV studio we joined in the taping of a program centered on cultural exchange between our visiting students from Nanae, and other study abroad and foreign-born students attending CCHS. The group consisted of students from many different countries, such as Italy, China, and Turkmenistan, making for a really interesting dynamic. The Nanae students explained the unique customs of Japanese schools, such as the students’ duty to clean the school at the end of each day, and the program ended with everyone saying “goodbye” in their native tongue (sayonara!). At the Radio Station, Nanae students played their favorite Japanese songs on a live broadcast, and read some of the station announcements in both English and Japanese. With family listening over the Internet back in Japan, the students joined together at the end of the hour for a special group message; “we’ll make it back in one piece!”
The evening events were also quite fun. On the Thursday after our arrival, we had a dinner party for the delegation adults, graciously hosted by Tom and Sue Curtain. At the Curtains’, the adults from the delegation and our Concord hosts enjoyed a beer-tasting of Massachusetts’ various craft brews, and thanks to two of the more energetic delegation members, we were all able to catch a sneak-peak of Hakodate’s infamous squid dance. As a special treat, we were even introduced to a different kind of Japanese dance, called “Yasuki Bushi”. Then on Saturday night, we had our big pizza party in the CCHS cafeteria, where we danced the Squid Dance en masse, as is the tradition during each fall delegation.
Below is a video taken by David Nurenberg of the “en masse” Squid Dance at our CCHS pizza party:
On Monday and Tuesday our group did some sightseeing in Cambridge and Boston. Most members bought the bulk of their souvenir gifts (omiyage) on Monday, during our group’s visit to Costco. I have heard that the Costco trip has become something of a tradition during each year’s delegation, and I can’t imagine a better way for our Nanae friends to get a firsthand experience of America’s “bigger is better” mentality. However, the buying of Costco souvenirs did seem to present a few difficulties with regards to baggage weight on our return trip and there was a fair bit of rearranging happening at the ticket counter at Logan; “would you mind sticking this 5 pound bag of Hershey Kisses in your carry on?”
I found Tuesday’s Duck Tour and guided cruise of Boston Harbor to be particularly fun. On these tours, we were able to experience Boston from many different viewpoints, so they were an especially good way to get a feel for the city. The students also seemed to enjoy visiting Fenway Park later that day. As the Red Sox were away on a road trip, the area wasn’t all that lively, but students got the opportunity to see inside the ballpark from the “Bleacher Bar”, which sits under the bleachers in center field. While I know tickets can be hard to come by, I think it would be such an incredible experience for future Nanae delegations to attend a home game at Fenway.
All in all, I think this year’s visit to Concord was a great success. Traveling on a direct flight from Narita to Boston made the transit extremely easy and comfortable and I hope future Nanae delegations can also fly direct. The sightseeing we did in Concord and Boston was great, but clearly the most valuable parts of this kind of exchange are the individual home-stay experiences and the opportunity for people from both towns to meet and interact in person. The central importance of home-stays cannot be overstated, and I’m so thankful to the families who volunteered and gave our Nanae visitors such unique and wonderful experiences. I truly believe that this delegation, like those before it, has strengthened the link between Concord and Nanae and I’d like to extend a big “thank you” to both towns for being allowed to participate in this year’s trip!
There are a whole bunch of other great photos from our trip, mostly taken by Kiyoshi Okada, so I’m just going to put my favorites below. Enjoy!