From June 7 to June 20 this summer, eleven adventurous Rutgers Prep students traveled to Japan for a homestay program at Rutgers Prep’s partner school, Jinsei Gakuen High School (JGHS). Under the supervision of RPS teachers Ms. Keiko Ishida and Mr. Charles Lid, students immersed themselves in Japanese culture and language.
Four Japanese lan-guage students enrolled in the program. One of them, Catherine Shi ’18, says, “Traveling to Japan has always been my dream. I was glad to learn about the Japan Homestay program between RPS and Jinsei Gakuen.”
This year, it was Rutgers Prep’s turn to visit JGHS. JGHS visited RPS in 2012, 2014, and 2016, and RPS visited JGHS in 2013, 2015, and 2017.
The Homestay Program included two parts; first, a nine-day sightseeing tour. In Tokyo, students made stops at the Imperial Palace, Meiji Jingu Shrine, Shibuya, Ueno Park, the Akihabara electronics district, and Jimbocho book district.
Students also traveled to the nearby cities of Kamakura and Hakone and took a cruise on Lake Ashi. In Kyoto, students saw Nijo-cas- tle and the Arashiyama bamboo district. They also saw Todai-ji Temple’s Great Buddha and Nara Park.
Ms. Ishida reports “Students were excited to see how Japan is clean and organized.” She adds, “It was very interesting to me to witness students’ reaction to things I grew up with and took it for granted.” She remembers when Shinkan-
sen (the bullet train) passed them at a platform and the students jumped with excitement, startled by the speed and noise.
Ms. Ishida enjoyed watching students read Japanese from signs, noticing their skills improve during the trip. Some students even picked up colloquial expressions after talking with locals.
Japanese student Joe Zhou ’19 adds, “The main reason I decided to go on the trip with the school is because the experience is gonna be so different compared to if I were to travel by myself. “
The second part of the trip was a ve-day homestay with JGHS families in Zentsu-ji on Shikoku island, which is just o the main land. It was a big contrast after visiting Tokyo, Kyoto, and other cities. Zentsu-ji was rural and relaxed, and students saw rice paddies, unpaved roads, and old temples.
Students met local people, commuted together to school, and dined with their host families. Ishida gladly reports that “all the students got along well with their Japanese families.”
At JGHS, students were excited to see a big welcome banner. The school o ered classes in calligraphy, first-aid and nursing, wadaiko (Japanese drum), ikebana ( ower arrangement), Kendo, Naginata, and Judo practices. They also learned to knead, shape, and cooked udon noodles.
Students also participated in more classes like math, Japanese, and English. Zhou
comments it was “super cool” to spend time “just like an ordinary Japanese high school student.”
Shi says, “As an exchange student sitting in a Japanese classroom, I felt foreign and yet a sense of belonging, because I was welcomed and was embraced by my Japanese classmates around me.”
Mr. Maeda, JGHS’s organizer, took them to Zentsu-ji Temple, Konpira Shrine, and Konpira Kabuki Theater (the oldest kabuki theater in Japan).
Although students wished were fluent in Japanese so they easily interact with the locals, Ishida comments that the “students are very observant and sensitive to understand Japanese people.”
Even non-Japanese language students, like Mason Llewellyn ’19, appreciated the trip. He says, “I wanted to experience a country whose language and culture are very different from my own. I knew I wouldn’t be able to understand anything but I wanted to try to learn everything I could.”
The Rutgers Prep students liked the homestay part much more than the sightseeing. The appreciated the personal communication with JGHS students, host families, and other local people.
Zhou says, “Living with the local family was also an unforgettable experience as I could really feel myself being in part of the culture.”
Shi appreciated her host family’s dedication, remembering that “they spent 5 hours driving me to visit seven art museums, by ship, by bus, and by car.”
In fact, she says that “the night before I left for home, I saw my host mom and Chisato crying. I was deeply moved – I only stayed with them for five days, and they treated me as if I were a part of their family.” After returning, her host family even sent a box with Japanese goods!
Ishida hopes that trips like these can motivate students to learn more about the Japanese language and culture and increase enrollment in Japanese courses at Rutgers Prep. After this trip, many students also hope for more opportunities to learn Japanese.
Llewellyn reflects, “I would recommend that other Prep students do this in the future because this trip is a great way to experience not only the tourist attractions of Japan but also Japanese home life.”
Zhou agrees and says you have to actually “get to experience and feel it,” adding that “there’s gonna be so many things that you won’t be able to see and learn [about Japan] just from books or TV.” Next year, Rutgers Prep hopes to welcome JGHS to New Jersey and to return to Japan in two years.
Ishida concludes, “ I am grateful for my chance to introduce the country and culture in which I was born and grew up.”
She also loved witnessing the students’ growth with each new day in Japan. She saw their leadership and perseverance in a foreign country and an unfamiliar environment, which helped to transform the entire group into a “big, caring family.”
Ishida adds, “Students said they will remember this trip throughout their lives. So will I.”