This adventure actually began in November 1998 when, for the first time, I had the opportunity to travel to Japan. Little did I know at that time that I would have many more opportunities to visit the "land of the rising sun."
I'm sitting at Gate 94 in the international terminal at San Francisco International Airport awaiting our 12:15 p.m. flight to Tokyo. Traveling with me this year are eleven Saint Lawrence Academy students and one other chaperone. Not surprisingly, the students are incredibly excited about spending two weeks in Nagasaki, where we will visit our sister school -- Junshin Girls' Junior & Senior High School. The two educational institutions have enjoyed a 22-year friendship which has changed the lives of students on both sides of the Pacific Ocean.
Our two-week visit will include visits to the Atomic Bomb Museum, Hypocenter Park (ground zero of the 1945 atomic bomb blast), Peace Park, and several other historical sites in and around Nagasaki. Students will also spend a significant amount of time interacting with their counterparts at our sister school. The Junshin students study English beginning in their first year of high school. Our students provide an opportunity for these girls to practice speaking English with American high school students who speak English as their first language.
Each Saint Lawrence Academy student will stay in the home of a Junshin family, experiencing Japanese culture first hand. This cultural exchange has enriched the lives of many students through the years.
Again this year, the Saint Lawrence group is quite ethnically diverse -- Caucasian, Hispanic, Asian, and Middle Eastern. I vividly recall an experience in 1998 when two Junshin students approached me and said, "Kevin-sensei, we thought you would bring American students to Nagasaki." Only four students had traveled to Nagasaki that year -- one was Causasian and three were Filipino. I assured the girls that I had, indeed, brought American students to Japan. The girls replied, "No, only one!" It was then that I realized that the cultural diversity we cherish in the United States is a foreign concept to Japanese students. In 1999, when I returned to Nagasaki with eighteen students, we introduced the concept of multi-culturalism to the Junshin students.
As we begin this year's adventure, I look forward to seeing our group come together as a family -- each of us caring for the others like family members do (or should). Just as our hosts in Japan will take good care of us, my students will learn the importance of taking care of each other. I'm grateful for this opportunity and for the experiences we'll enjoy in the next two weeks.