Program brings 15 Japanese students to Mid-Missouri

From left, Marina Noguchi, 16, and Daisuke Watanabe and Koki Matsushima, both 17, fill snack bags to be distributed from the Samaritan Center. A group of students from Japan are visiting the United States and are in the Mid-Missouri area for several days. They spent Thursday morning at the Samaritan Center helping out where needed.

From left, Marina Noguchi, 16, and Daisuke Watanabe and Koki Matsushima, both 17, fill snack bags to be distributed from the Samaritan Center. A group of students from Japan are visiting the United States and are in the Mid-Missouri area for several days. They spent Thursday morning at the Samaritan Center helping out where needed. Photo by Julie Smith.

A group of 15 Japanese exchange students who were directly affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11, 2011, are in Mid-Missouri this week as a part of the TOMODACHI Summer Coca-Cola Educational Homestay Program.

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Ryo Nomura, 16, puts cans of corn into a box after exchange students taped labels on them. She is part of a group of 15 students from Japan visiting the United States.

“Some of them lost family members, jobs, homes,” said Susan Rehagen, who along with her husband, Ray, volunteers with the region’s cultural exchange program, coordinated by Dawn Glick.

The cultural exchange program has brought exchange students to Mid-Missouri for eight years.

The students are traveling with an English teacher, Yurie Noda. Ray said although the students have had four years of English language instruction, spending several weeks in the U.S. gives them a chance to learn actual spoken English.

The TOMODACHI program, which this summer brought more than 100 students to the U.S, is meant to support “students who will lead the next generation, by broadening their knowledge and experience, and by providing them with an opportunity to learn about different cultures and people.”

The students traveled to the U.S. on July 22. After touring Washington, D.C., and Atlanta, the home of Coca-Cola, the group was divided into groups of 15 on July 26 and dispersed across eight states.

The 15 high school-age students in Mid-Missouri are staying with host families in New Bloomfield, Holts Summit, Jefferson City, Columbia and Chamois. They are from three prefectures of Japan — Fukushima, Iwate and Miyagi. Prefectures are equivalent to states.

The Mid-Missouri group volunteered at the Samaritan Center on Thursday morning as part of a service project.

Rehagen said the group requested to volunteer at an agency such as the Samaritan Center.

“One girl wrote a letter to her host family and said that she had been helped by donations from other countries,” she said. “She said she wanted to do the same.”

Another student also donated money to the Samaritan Center.

The group’s Mid-Missouri stay also included activities such as visiting Bridal Cave, playing laser tag, visiting the Clydesdale farm in Boonville and touring the state Capitol.

Seventeen-year-old Koki Matsushima said one of his favorite parts of the overall trip was visiting CNN headquarters in Atlanta.

He said he has also enjoyed the food.

“The hamburgers and pizza are better here,” Matsushima said.

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