Students from Stadium High School got a look into Eastern culture when they welcomed a contingent of Japanese students from Tacoma’s sister city Kitakyushu, Japan to celebrate a new contract for exchange programs between Stadium and Kitakyushu High School.
The contract signing was held at the Hampton Hotel in Lakewood on March 27 and was a celebration of both American and Japanese culture, with host families exchanging gifts with their Japanese exchange students who had visited for the past week. The delegates were sent off with a swirl of cultural fusion, a mix of pizza and sushi serving as dinner for the event.
The contract stating that exchange programs would take place was signed by Stadium Principal Kevin Ikeda and Kitakyushu Kocho Sensei Kobayashi.
“I think the foreign exchange programs are important for our students because of the nature of the global economy and the kids are not only going to be facing competition within the state, within the classrooms, but globally and we see that in even the high end fields. We see it in electricians, engineers, entrepreneurs and researchers,” Ikeda said. “When other countries are supplying cheaper labor with higher skill, we’re in a different business operation environment, so knowledge and understanding of that is critical. Understanding cultural differences when in business, the only way to do that is to learn someone’s culture and understand that.”
The set-up will bring Kitakyushu students to Tacoma one year, and Tacoma students to Kitakyushu the next. The amount of time the students spend in the sister city will vary depending on available scheduling and finances.
Though the contingent of Kitakyushu’s students were only here a week, they got an in-depth look at what makes Tacoma tick, including meeting Mayor Marilyn Strickland.
Kitakyushu has been Tacoma’s sister city since 1959, when the cities of Koji, Kokura, Wakamatsu, Yahata and Tobata were amalgamated to form Kitakyushu, with a population of over 1 million people. Because of the city amalgamation, Norfolk, VA also serves as a sister city for Kitakyushu. Since its development, the city has become one of the largest iron and steel producing cities in Japan. The exchange system between Stadium and Kitakyushu began in 2002, and has been in place on and off since then.
“The mission is peace through people and we’re just strengthening the relation culturally, socially, maybe politically, maybe eventually economically,” said Kitakyushu Sister City Committee Chair Terry Spuck. “We can’t rely on everyone speaking English. We have to respect the other culture. This is important globally.”
After the contract was signed, students from both sides of the ocean exchanged gifts and the Kitakyushu delegates got to stand up and say goodbye, in English, through teary eyes. Some claimed they would never forget the experience they had here, even if it was just a week, while others vowed to return one day, perhaps through the new exchange program at both schools.
Four to five students at Stadium have already expressed interest in traveling to Kitakyushu in the summer of 2015, as Kitakyushu and Tacoma’s relationship continues to grow.
“Previously, we’ve tried to do this, but it’s kind of fallen through due to financial issues on both sides. We’re looking to get back on track,” Spuck said.