Japan, Summer 2018
Eighteen students nervously waved goodbye to their chaperones and somewhat hesitantly drove off with their Japanese host families last summer for a week of school in a foreign country. A week later, those same students welled up with tears and hugged their hosts as they said goodbye after an incredible week of eye-opening cultural exchange. They had no idea how attached they would become to their families and the beautiful country of Japan.
The Grace Church School exchange with Japan has a long history, and the students on the trip this year lived up to its legacy. It is the first exchange trip Grace ever had, so it holds a special place in the hearts of its participants. The students spent a week in Yukuhashi completely immersed in the family life of their hosts and in the scholastic life of their host schools. The anxiety on their faces at the thought of being separated from each other for a week almost immediately changed to smiles as they found themselves surrounded by the warmth of Japanese hospitality. They were without phones and able to be completely in the moment and present with their hosts. Their chaperones -- Mr. Davison, Mr. Fasano, Ms. Carpenter, and Mr. Chan -- were repeatedly impressed by their daring in trying new foods, new experiences and new attitudes. At their host schools, Grace students were welcomed with excitement and flurries of activity; they often found themselves at the center of attention, achieving "rock star" status by the end of the week. The tearful goodbyes at the end of the week demonstrated the bonds that had been formed during the exchange. Thank you cards and contact info were passed out, and it was clear that many of these friendships would continue to flourish in the future.
From Yukuhashi it was off to a very different kind of adventure, traveling first to Hiroshima, where the students were humbled into silence upon realizing the gravity of the history in their presence. In the gorgeous city of Kyoto, there was plenty of shopping, sightseeing, and enjoying delicious food. From Kyoto it was off to Tokyo where the students stayed at the Tenri Tohon Temple; they prayed each morning and participated in the chores that keep the temple running. It was another few days of complete immersion that required some courage and flexibility on the part of the students.
The Japan Trip is all about getting out of one's comfort zone and experiencing another culture first-hand. It is not a vacation. But as our eighteen fearless travelers learned, a little bravery is rewarded in spades by the incredibly giving culture of Japan.