Japanese students from the Sister Cities of Delray Beach Student Exchange Program recently dined at the Delray Beach Golf Club with their hosts to share stories and memories that many of the students said they will never forget.
Miyazu, Kyoto-fu, Japan has been a sister city to Delray Beach since 1977 making this the 40th anniversary of the partnership. This year, seven students came from Miyazu on Oct. 27 to spend several days in the city learning about American culture. The trip then concluded with the students jetting off to New York City to see "The Lion King" on Broadway and tour the city before heading home to Japan.
"It is so wonderful to see the positive results that just a few days of living together and sharing with each other can bring – every teen involved came with an open mind, and will leave with a true appreciation of the similarities and differences of other cultures," said Sister Cities of Delray Beach board member Pauline Zaros. "It only takes a few days to form bonds that will last a lifetime."
Experiencing everything from their first Halloween to spending time at Atlantic Community High School, the Japanese students learned about local culture.
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"You are very kind so I don't want to say bye," said Chisaki Imazawa, 17. "All of the experiences here will be useful to my future. I had a very good time with my host family and I'm looking forward to seeing you again. I can't forget this experience."
Josh Bowes, 15, who hosted 15-year-old Takumi Hirano with his family, was in awe of Japanese culture.
"Takumi and I did so many fun things over the past few days that it was such a blur to me, but we've definitely grown together and became very good friends," Josh said.
Takumi deemed Josh his best friend.
"I want to come here again and meet all of you again," Takumi said. "I love Florida and I will never forget any of this."
Izumi Otono, 15, referred to her time in Delray Beach as "her treasure" and her host student, Lauren Bennett, 15, said "doing face masks and watching 'High School Musical' " was much more fun with her new friend from Japan.
Delray Beach Mayor Cary Glickstein handed out proclamations to both students and chaperones and the group snapped selfies and shed a few tears as the host families got ready to bid farewell to their guests.
Nancy King, who has traveled with students eight times to Miyazu, said she is always amazed watching the students come together.
"I still stay in touch with a lot of the alumni from this program," she said. "A lot of the American students stay involved with Japanese culture for the rest of their lives."
Rev. Tony Durante of Trinity Lutheran School and Church is the host committee coordinator for the student exchange program. The former Delray Beach Police officer, who traveled to Miyazu in 1999 representing the police department, instantly connected with Japanese culture. He later became a missionary in Japan and met his wife there.
"In so many ways, Japan has become a second home for me so when students come here, I feel like I'm going home again," Durante said.
Focusing on culture, language and the history of Delray Beach, Durante makes sure host family students are prepped on properly communicating with their Japanese exchange students so they can get the most out of their international experience while the students are here.
Next year students from Delray will be visiting Miyazu.
"The Japanese truly reciprocate, so any of the American students who visit Miyazu next year will be treated extremely well and have a chance to learn about their wonderful culture," Durante said.