Two former participants in the St. Louis-Ishinomaki Friendship Program are planning trips back to Japan in the coming year, continuing to fulfill the mission of the Program and the Japan America Society. Under the program, 11 American students in all traveled to Ishinomaki, Japan; visited areas devastated by the 2011 tsunami; participated in home-stays; experienced Japan and its culture; made many friends; and brought their experience back to St. Louis with them. Now, two of those students are deepening their Japan connection with their own trips back to Ishinomaki.
George Arbanas (left) was one of six participants in 2014 to travel to Japan. Since then, George has volunteered for the JAS, sustained his interest in Japan, and maintained contact with many of the people he met. He is now a sophomore at St. Olaf College and will be traveling back to Japan in January 2018. During his trip, he will visit his host family and several of the students in Ishinomaki with whom he has remained friends. "I’m very excited to return to Japan, and I’m very much looking forward to reconnecting with the people I met as a part of the TOMODACHI program."
Christian Ragain (right) was one of the five students who made the TOMODACHI trip in 2016. He is planning his return in June of 2018. During this trip, he will spend some time in Tokyo and then will travel to Ishinomaki to visit his host family. When asked about his upcoming trip, Christian said, “I’m super excited to go back! I remember how quickly I was learning Japanese while staying there, so I’m excited to learn more during my second visit! I cannot wait to see my old host family as well as my school’s old exchange student... I cannot wait to visit Tokyo for the first time, and I hope to immerse myself as much as possible in the Japanese culture even more than I was able to in the two weeks I spent there with the TOMODACHI program!”
This St. Louis Ishinomaki Friendship Program was created under the auspices of the TOMODACHI Initiative (http://usjapantomodachi.org/), which was created to support Japan’s recovery from the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11, 2011. The Japan America Society of St. Louis created and organized the program with funding from TOMODACHI and the National Association of Japan America Societies (NAJAS). In addition to the trips to Japan in 2014 and 2016, the JAS also organized visits to St. Louis by Japanese students and adults in 2013 and 2015. They participated in the Japanese Festival at the Missouri Botanical garden, experienced American and St. Louis culture through baseball and other activities, and enjoyed homestays for the duration of their stays. The mission of the program was to invest in the next generation of Japanese and American people and deepen relations between the two countries through grassroots-level and people-to-people exchanges. In George and Christian, we see this mission being fully realized!