Ready for Japan? Applications being taken for Sister City scholarships

By Wayne Bryan Originally Published March 14, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated March 13, 2013 at 11:59 a.m.
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Jacob deLinde, left, who attends Fountain Lake High School, tells Hot Springs Sister City Program Coordinator Mary Neilson and others at a fundraiser on March 7 about his experiences as a member of the Sister City student delegation to Japan last September. The March 7 event at Gallery Central in Hot Springs raised money for scholarships to pay transportation and other costs for students to visit Hanamaki, Japan, later this year.

Many Garland County teachers and Hot Springs residents have the same question on their minds: “Do I want to go to Japan?”

The Hot Springs Sister City program is looking for people who would like to be part of the city’s delegation to Hanamaki, Japan, celebrating 20 years of mutual visits between residents of the two cities.

“This year’s special 20th anniversary visit is tentatively scheduled for Sept. 7-15,” said Mary Neilson, Sister City program coordinator. “The group will spend two nights in Tokyo; then the delegations will take the world-famous bullet train to Hanamaki.”

Neilson said the highlight of the trip will be when the delegation takes part in celebrating two decades of special friendship between the people of Hot Springs and Hanamaki.

“Delegation members are even invited to take part in the parades of the annual Hanamaki Fall Festival,” she said. “The festival includes dancers and ‘mikoshi’ — shrines carried in the community on the shoulders of Hanamaki citizens.”

Throughout the stay, the Hot Springs residents take guided tours of shrines, museums and “onsen,” the bathhouses that attract visitors to Hanamaki from throughout Japan.

“Being a member of the Hot springs citizen delegation allows its members to experience Hanamaki, the scenic countryside, its cuisine and the incredible hospitality of the people of our sister city,” Neilson said.

The trip will cost around $4,000 and includes airfare, ground transportation, accommodations in Western-style hotel rooms, tours guides and most meals.

At the core of the Sister City exchange program are the students and teachers who visit between America and Japan, creating lifelong bonds with each other and the cities they visit.

The 11 students who were selected from Garland County will visit Hanamaki in July. The students are from Fountain Lake, Lake Hamilton and Lakeside high schools.

“We also have a student from Cutter Morning Star High School, the first student we have had from that school system,” Neilson said.

“The cost for a student to be a member of the delegation to Hanamaki is about $2,500, but members of the Hot Springs National Park Sister City Foundation are working to help students who might not be able to pay for the trip.”

Fundraising for student scholarships kicked off March 7 at Gallery Central with an event sponsored by the Morris Foundation, the Jane Howard Foundation and KYE-YAC International.

Since 2009, the foundation has given $25,000 to help send 31 students to Hanamaki. The scholarships are given for both need and merit.

“We want to make sure the delegation takes the best students, not just those that can pay for the trip,” Neilson said.

Several students who have received scholarships in the past to visit Hanamaki spoke to those gathered for the event about how they were affected by the experience of visiting Japan.

Julia Ross, a member of the delegation in 2010, dressed in a Hanamaki school uniform, opened her talk by welcoming the audience in Japanese, then returned to English.

“This experience changed my life,” Ross said. “If I never go back, I will also have a different outlook on life and the world, and it was all made possible by the scholarship.”

Maribelle Perrigo from Lakeside High School said she has always thought about a career in foreign relations, and the trip to Hanamaki only strengthened the idea in her.

Visiting Japan with the Sister City program last

September, Perrigo said she was surprised by the courtesy found throughout the Japanese culture.

“It seemed the polar opposite of Americans,” she said. “It has caused me to reflect on why the cultures are so different.”

Jacob deLinde of Fountain High School said he felt that he was treated as a celebrity.

“It was surprising now 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 in November.”

DeLinde said he had been in email contact with his Japanese host family.

Also staying in touch with his host family in Japan is Jarrett Hornsby, a student at Lake Hamilton High School. He also visited Hanamaki in 2012.

He said he made a lot of friends in Japan and looks forward to having his host family visit him later this month.

“I’ll take them to downtown Hot Springs, Oaklawn Park and then to the mall with my friends so they can see how we live here,” he said.

Neilson said the number and size of the scholarships that will be given out for the students going to Japan in September will be decided by the amount raised by the campaign.

The scholarships will also provide travel funds for two Garland County public-school teachers.

“The scholarship will fully fund the travel costs for a seven-day trip to Hanamaki in mid-June,” Neilson said. “The city of Hanamaki will provide home-stay living arrangements, along with the tours and educational opportunities.”

Applications are being accepted until March 25, and scholarships will be awarded in early April. Application information is available through the Sister City Program link on the Hot Springs city home page, For more information, call (501) 545-6960.

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or

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