The cultural exchange programs are among the most valuable and cherished traditions at GCS. Giving our students the opportunity to travel abroad at a young age is an important part of building the worldly perspective that we try to encourage. The Japan exchange program in southern city of Yukuhashi is the oldest travel program at Grace, having just celebrated its 20th year. From the classrooms to the temples to the bustling streets of Tokyo, every day was a learning experience. We learned how to write calligraphy, drink tea, play music, eat okonomiyaki, use chopsticks, plant rice, and enjoy kabuki in two short weeks.
Without a doubt though, living with a host family was the most rewarding part of the trip; it always is. Many students were amazed by how quickly they found ways to communicate with their host families despite a significant language barrier. Prior to the trip, one 8th grader excitedly showed me an app that he had downloaded to his phone that translated spoken words between Japanese and English. After the homestay I asked him about the app and if it helped him communicate during his homestay. He told me that he used it for about ten minutes before he realized it was more fun to try to communicate without it.
For me that anecdote symbolizes what is truly valuable about these exchange programs. It’s not the places you visit or the food that you try that is most important for our students. It’s the friendships you make and the learning you do when trying to navigate a foreign land that is lifechanging.
Dan Rufer, Dean of the Class of 2018
We departed from JFK headed to Yukuhashi, Japan. After two flights and nearly 24 hours of total travel time, 16 in the air, we arrived at the Yukuhashi Training Center. The trip was exciting and fun, but also exhausting!
Today was our first full day in Japan. We visited the Yukuhashi City Museum of History and the Hiraodai Limestone Caves. After the caves we found the Hiraodai Country Park, which we quickly named “The most fun park in Japan.” In the evening, we went to a party and met our host families for the next 8 days.
We attended school in Japan for the first time today. Students sat in on classes like biology, math, and art. In English class, Jesse and Mayin were interviewed by Yukuhashi students. After school we spent time getting to know our host families.
The day started with school, and in the afternoon we rehearsed the presentation that we will give on Thursday about GCS and the United States. After rehearsal, we had an incredible Japanese cultural experience at the Joki Temple with a Tea Ceremony, a calligraphy lesson, and a koto music ceremony. The koto is a traditional stringed instrument, and the music was beautiful.
At school today several us observed a speech contest, which was really fascinating. After school, we took a chartered bus to Hakata and spent a few hours sightseeing and shopping before we were treated to dinner and a kabuki performance in the Hakata Cultural Center. The dances were fascinating.
In small groups this morning, we gave the presentations we had been working on for several weeks. The students and teachers were gracious and kind as they listened to our descriptions of life and school in the U.S. In the afternoon, we ate a delicious bento lunch at a historical site in Yukuhashi.
Today was our last day in Yukuhashi. We enjoyed a full day of school and then had a really fun farewell party. We have only been here for a week, but we’re all going to miss it very much!
We did a lot of traveling today. In the morning we left Yukuhashi for Kyoto with a brief stopover in Hiroshima. We visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and took time to learn more about the historical significance of this city. Back at the train station we sat around a lunch counter where we could see okonomiyaki (grilled cabbage pancakes) being made. Once we arrived in Kyoto we walked around the cultural district of Gion, had dinner and settled into our hotel.
In our only full day in Kyoto we did and saw a lot. A tour bus picked us up first thing, and we visited several places around the city, including several Buddhist temples and gardens. Kinkakuji (pictured), Kiyomizu Dera and Sanjusan Gendo were some of the favorites. We finished the day with a lively night of karaoke.
We started the day with a boat ride down the Hozu-gawa River. The views were incredible. After lunch we left Kyoto for Tokyo by train. When we arrived, we checked into our hotel and spent the evening walking around Ginza, shopping and exploring Tokyo.
Today was our last full day in Japan. We spent the morning sightseeing in the Asakusa district of Tokyo, including a stop at the Senso-ji Temple (pictured). In the afternoon we visited a few other parts of Tokyo including Odaiba, a small artificial island near downtown. In the evening we enjoyed our last few hours in Japan reminiscing about our trip and enjoying the great city that Tokyo is. Tomorrow we fly home to New York.