Students invited to apply for Sister City trips

By Wayne Bryan Published December 15, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
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Syoji Omori, left, assistant principal of Hanamaki Higashi; Bruce Orr, assistant superintendent of the Lakeside School District; and Sensu Sato, an English teacher from Hanamaki, leaders of the Sister City exchange program, chat with each other as their students from Lakeside and Hanamaki tour the William J. Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock on Dec. 5. The Hanamaki group visited Arkansas from Dec. 2-7,

Now is the season for many high school students in Garland County to ask themselves, “Do I want to go to Japan?”

Applications are being accepted for students who wish to be part of the Spa City’s delegation to Hanamaki, Japan, in 2014.

This will be the 21st year that Hot Springs has sent students and other citizens to Japan through the Sister Cities program.

“Garland County students now in grades 8-11 are eligible to apply for the weeklong educational study trip,” said Mary Neilson, the Hot Springs Sister City program coordinator. Up to 10 students will be chosen to travel to Hanamaki as the city’s representatives. They will also be expected to participate in Sister City activities throughout the year following their return home.

Neilson said the chance to experience Japanese culture firsthand is a great opportunity to the students selected to make the journey, which is scheduled for July.

When the students from Garland County visit Hanamaki, they stay with a host family, visit schools and take cultural tours of important shires and museums, she said.

“Most of their time is spent with students their own age. This is where they can make surprising discoveries of how our two cultures are similar and different.”

Hanamaki is linked with Hot Springs in the Sister City program because of the Japanese city’s onsen, the bathhouses built at or over natural thermal springs. Like the bathhouses along Central Avenue in Hot Springs, the onsen in Hanamaki attract visitors from all over the country.

Students who have taken part in the program and traveled to Japan have said it was a life-changing trip that created long-term bonds between themselves and their host families. In March, Jacob deLinde of Fountain Lake High School told an audience in Hot Springs that he was treated as a celebrity during his trip to Hanamaki in 2012.

“It was surprising how nice we were treated, with the highest respect,” he said. “I hope it will make me a better host when students come to our home.”

DeLinde also said he remains in touch with his Japanese host family though emails.

Students from Hanamaki ended their recent stay in Hot Springs on Dec. 7. A group of nine students and two advisers spent five days in Hot Springs.

“The students were from Hanamaki Higashi, a high school in the sister city,” Neilson said. “They were led by Syoji Omori, assistant principal at the school, along with English teacher Setso Sato.”

The group was scheduled to spend several days at Lakeside High School, but the recent winter storm closed the school one day and rearranged their schedules.

“They got to spend a day with their host families, which I think they liked,” Neilson said. “They visited Little Rock and went to places like the Clinton Center and the state Capitol.”

During their day at Lakeside, they visited classes, toured the campus and even played some volleyball in the gym, Neilson said.

For the students who will visit Japan in the summer, the costs are expected to be more than $2,500, but members of the Hot Springs National Park Sister City Foundation assist students who might not be able to pay for the trip.

“We want to make sure the delegation takes the best students, those who will bring the best of themselves on the journey and get the most out of it,” Neilson said, “not just those that can pay for the trip.”

Applications will be accepted through Jan. 15, Neilson said. Applications are available online from the Sister City page of the city of Hot Springs website, www.cityhs.et/236/Sister-City-Program, or by calling Mary Neilson at (501) 545-6960.

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

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