From July 1-10, 2017, ten eighth grade students and two Oak Ridge Schools staff chaperones visited Naka-shi, Japan for the twenty-sixth annual Middle School Exchange. The annual exchange is organized by the Oak Ridge Sister City Support Organization and Oak Ridge Schools.

The goal of the exchange is to build knowledge and understanding between cultures. To prepare for the trip, Oak Ridge students took lessons in Japanese language and customs from Oak Ridger Shigeko Uppuluri. While in Naka, the American participants were busy with a daily schedule of cultural activities including: weaving and dyeing, kanji calligraphy, ikebana (flower arranging), touring historic sites, traditional Japanese-style dining, and a formal tea ceremony.

The students (five each from Robertsville and Jefferson Middle Schools) were paired with Japanese counterparts, and they stayed in their hosts’ homes and attended their junior high schools. The delegation also visited a local elementary school and Naka High School, where they interacted with Japanese students in a variety of English language activities.

Of the trip, chaperone Kristina Casalenuovo of JMS said, “As an educator, it was wonderful to see what it is like to be a student and a teacher in Japanese schools.”

The group also spent part of one day in Tokyo, Japan’s capital city. They visited the famous Asakusa district of the city and had a bird’s-eye view of the one of the largest urban areas in the world from the observation deck of the Tokyo Skytree.

ORS and SCSO have been making preparations for the upcoming second half of the exchange. The Japanese exchange students’ arrival in Tennessee on Monday, August 21 will be celebrated with a Welcome Reception at the School Administration Building. On Tuesday, August 22, each middle school will hold an assembly to welcome the guests and share about the exchange program. During the week, the Japanese guests will attend school with their hosts as well as take multiple excursions to locations around the area such as Market Square and the Sunsphere, The Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center and Gatlinburg, ORNL, and the Oak Ridge Mayor’s office. A highlight of their stay will be a visit to the Friendship Bell of Oak Ridge.

Applications for the 2018 Exchange (summer dates TBA) will be available during the spring semester. Students currently enrolled in seventh grade at JMS and RMS can apply. Students must submit a formal application and are interviewed before selections are made by school staff members.

“How many people get to live and experience life like the Japanese in their own homes?” Casalenuovo stated. “The people in Japan are one of a kind and the most generous people I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet. I think it’s an experience that our students will never forget.”

Participants in the 2017 Exchange were: from Jefferson Middle – Alex Dahl, Savanna Maddux, Allison Myers, Henri Scott, Alex Shanafield, and chaperone Kristina Casalenuovo; from Robertsville Middle – Mateo Cacheiro, Bert Everitt, Jordan Oxendine, Thomas Schultz, Aidan Seay, and chaperone Julie Kinder-McMillan.

Article written by Julie Kinder-McMillan