The Kakehashi Project USA

The Kakehashi Project: Students and Teachers Travel to Japan

February 15, 2018

February break is fast approaching. While some students will spend their days off relaxing, studying, or going out of town, 23 students and 2 faculty members are going on a trip that they will never forget: an all-paid exchange program to Japan.

In the fall of 2017, the school received a one-time grant from the Japanese government to have 23 students participate in the prestigious Japan’s Friendship Ties Program, also called the Kakehashi Project USA. Through this grant, students will be traveling to Japan for nine days as they experience Japanese culture and learn about Japanese society and history. The program is designed for students who have an interest in Japanese culture and is part of an effort to strengthen ties between Japan and the United States. Although the Japanese government selects schools from the United States every year to participate, the school’s being selected came as exciting news to Dr. Elizabeth Giblin and Mr. Glenn Peano, who reviewed all student applications and selected the chosen participants.

Dr. Giblin, Supervisor of World Languages, and Mr. Peano, Supervisor of Social Studies, received notification of the school’s selection via email in the fall, when, after all applications were submitted, were tasked with reviewing a total of 140 applications for the program and selecting only 23 participants. This is the first time the school has ever been selected for a government-sponsored student exchange program. And the school is one of three schools to participate from the United States for the 2018 year. The Japanese Ministry of Foreign Education looked for a school in New Jersey to participate and chose Tenafly High School because of its academic record. In 2013, Northern Valley Regional High School in Old Tappan, New Jersey was selected to participate. When it reached out to the Japanese government in the hope it could participate again, that school was told that the Kakehashi program is a one-time exchange experience. Therefore, the 23 students selected will be participating in a highly unique experience that is very new to the school as well.

With nine days to explore a country almost halfway across the world, what will students and teachers be doing in Japan? Their itinerary includes a wide range of activities and experiences that will give students and teachers an opportunity to learn more about Japanese culture and society. From visiting Toho High School in Nagoya and the Mikawa Samurai Museum to participating in a traditional tea ceremony and taking a class on Japanese cake-making, the itinerary has a lot in store for participating students and teachers.

Students will also experience a homestay, in which students will stay with local families over a weekend. After learning that the trip’s itinerary included a homestay experience, participating students are looking forward to staying with host families. One student, sophomore Lindsey Kim (’20), said, “I’m really looking forward to the homestay the most. Being a Korean-American but never having traveled to any country in Asia, I’m really excited to immerse myself in Japanese culture.” Anya Kasubhai (’20), a sophomore who was selected to participate, said, “I am excited to stay with people that are native to a country that is so different from our society. I am excited to try new food too.”

There are many reasons to be excited about traveling to a different country—from the local cuisine to a nation’s history. Emily Press (’18), a senior who was selected to participate in the exchange trip, is excited to immerse herself in a country that she has learned more about in her history class, which has spent the first semester of the school year exploring U.S. foreign policy. “I’ve never been to any country in Asia before, so I’m really excited to go to Japan—especially after learning more about Japan in the World War II unit in my history class,” said Press. “Also, I’m a big foodie, so I’m excited to try Japanese cuisine in the country itself other than sushi.” Similarly, senior Marc Vitenzon (’18) is excited to experience Japanese culture and learn more about the close relationship Japan and the United States share. “I am excited to connect two completely different cultures and meet people with different perspectives—sharing differences and uniting through similarities,” said Vitenzon. Vitenzon also looks forward to learning more about an important facet of Japanese society:  its rapidly growing economy. “I’m really excited to learn more about the economy of Japan. I heard that Japan has one of the fastest growing economies; and strong work ethic is one of the core values in Japanese culture,” said Vitenzon. “It will also be a unique experience to observe a nation that has recovered from times of war and has entered a sphere of growing economic strength.”

Moreover, students will be joined by two teachers on their journey:  Ms. Margaret Wissler, who teaches geometry and pre-calculus, and Ms. Mary Lane, who teaches Mandarin Chinese. “Traveling to Japan in February is going to be a truly memorable time,” said Ms. Wissler. “I feel very fortunate to share this experience with THS students. It’s going to be an educational, fun, and exciting week.”

Mr. Peano, the leader in this endeavor for the students, said, “I hope that students participating in the trip step out of their comfort zones and open their minds to the experiences and cultural interactions with their Japanese hosts throughout the week. I am also confident that they will represent Tenafly High School well and upon their return take the initiative to share what they have gained from the trip with their fellow THS students and the community of Tenafly.”

Likewise, Dr.  Giblin said, “The Kakehashi trip is a tremendous opportunity for our students. Through traveling to Japan, visiting schools, and staying with host families, I hope that our kids are able to view their own world through a new lens. I also hope that they come back ready to share their experiences with the greater THS community.” 

Students will get the chance to meet Japanese officials from foreign affairs. The Japanese government hopes that visiting students and teachers will promote Japanese culture, particularly through social media. You can follow your classmates’ trip to Japan on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Students and teachers will take off on February 19th and land in Tokyo on February 20th. They will return to the United States on February 27th.

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