Summer in the city

Katie Aspens is one of three students from Central Kitsap High School that will travel to Kure, Japan as part of the Bremerton Central Lion
Katie Aspens is one of three students from Central Kitsap High School that will travel to Kure, Japan as part of the Bremerton Central Lion's Club exchange student program.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

After countless months of learning the language, culture and customs, three students from Central Kitsap High School will finally have the chance to put what they’ve learned to use in Kure, Japan.

Sophomore Katie Aspens will travel with juniors Rachel Woodward and Derek Scott to Kure, Bremerton’s sister city, on July 17, as part of a foreign exchange student program sponsored by the Bremerton Central Lion’s Club. Spending one month there, the three will have the opportunity to live with host families, tour the sites and communicate with locals.

“I am so excited,” said Aspens of the trip. “It’s been kind of weird learning the languages but not going there.”

After hearing about the program from family members, each student had to answer a variety of questions about Bremerton and write a letter to the city of Kure and the Host Family Selection Committee. Aspens said students were chosen based on their letter to interview in front of a panel including the Kure Mayor’s assistant and members of the Bremerton community.

Once accepted, the Bremerton Central Lion’s Club funded half of the airfare for each student, who was then responsible for the other half and money for spending and gifts. Students had to bring gifts for each club and host family.

Flying from San Francisco to Osaka, Japan, students will first stay with the assistant to the Mayor of Osaka for three days to tour the city before moving on to Kure. Once in Osaka, students must present speeches they have practiced in Japanese to the Mayor’s office, at their welcome party, the Lion’s and Soroptomist clubs.

“I’m excited ... but starting to get nervous,” Woodward said with a laugh. “We have to go over to (the Japanese instructor’s) house to help us translate our speeches.”

Woodward added that she’s nervous because she has only had two courses of the language at Olympic College whereas Aspens and Scott have taken it for the past three years at CKHS.

Although the language barrier has created some nerves in the three, students in Japan begin learning the English language when they enter junior high and continue through high school.

“From the little they know and what I know, we’ll be able to communicate,” Woodward said with a laugh. “But that is one thing I (have been) nervous about.”

Aspens said after being accepted into the exchange program, she began e-mailing her host family and communicating with them in English. Although the two boys in her host family are just learning the language, she said the father knows it well.

The students all admitted to their excitement about eating “authentic” Japanese food as well.

“I am excited to do everything,” Aspens said with a laugh. “I feel weird saying this, but I’m excited to go there and eat.”

Each student will stay with a different host family in Kure, traveling to see different sites and learn various family traditions. Woodward said one of the activities she is most looking forward to is visiting Hiroshima on Aug. 6, the 62nd anniversary of when the atomic bomb was dropped. She added that other activities are mostly initiated by the host families.

“It’s really up to the family and what they want to do,” Woodward said, adding that she’s excited to see how different the daily Japanese lifestyle differs from that of America. “They’re just so excited to have you there, they treat you like their own family.”

Woodward added that she plans to travel with her laptop so she can show photos of all the activities she participates in regularly, including her job at Taco Bell, high school, swim team, Relay for Life and scuba diving.

“I am excited to meet (my host family),” Aspens said, adding that if she was not accepted into the exchange program, her family would try to host one of the three Japanese students who will be living in Bremerton during the time they are gone. “They are our Japanese counterparts.”

Aspens added that she is most anticipating having to answer questions or hold a conversation in Japanese, especially with slang terms that they have not studied. She added that their studies of the language are very formal, and not necessarily how many Japanese students address each other.

In addition to bringing money for souvenirs, the three students were asked to bring gifts that symbolize Washington for those they will be in contact with including the Mayor and their host families.

“(The host families) give you more gifts than you can imaging,” Woodward said with a laugh. “The Japanese are big gift-givers.”

For their farewell barbecue on Aug. 20, when they leave Kure, the students have to prepare something to teach their Japanese family and community. Woodward said they plan to teach everyone the “Electric Slide,” as their parting gift.

“I think I’m going to miss (Japan) when I have to come home,” Aspens added.

The students from Kure will be residing in Bremerton beginning July 24 until Aug. 22. For more information on hosting one of the Japanese students, contact Elaine Valencia in the Bremerton Mayor’s office at (360) 473-5266.

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