From Kamakura, Japan to PA, USA

Perkiomen Valley High School was abuzz with excitement as it welcomed students from the Kamakura-Jogakuin School in Japan. This long-lasting tradition, born from the chance encounters of former PV teacher Mr. Tom Grant during his time in Japan, now symbolizes an eternal international bond. As PV opened its doors to the latest batch of exchange students from Kamakura-Jogakuin, it marked the 21st chapter of this exchange between two educational worlds. 

“Our exchange started when Mr. Tom Grant established a partnership during his travels and brief time living in Japan. We have extended this partnership and established a tradition between our schools that we honor to this day,” Mr. Allen, adviser of the Japanese Exchange Student Club, said. 

With the roots of this cultural exchange between PVHS and Kamakura-Jogakuin dating back to the mid-1970s, this partnership stands as one of the longest-running exchanges between American and Japanese schools on the East Coast. The exchange program, operating on an alternate basis, has Kamakura-Jogakuin visiting America during even years, and PVHS visiting Japan during odd years. 

“My favorite part of this program is that it extends beyond the boundaries of the school and witnessing the impact it can have on our students.  Through this program, students involved in the exchange get the opportunity to expand their cultural understanding, enhance their communication skills, and develop meaningful relationships that can last a lifetime,” Mr. Allen said. 

This program allows students to broaden their global perspective and improve their social abilities to communicate and adapt to different situations. The Kamakura students were offered the opportunity to travel to one of three countries: Canada, New Zealand or America. Evidently, the set of students currently at PV chose to come to America and immerse themselves in the culture and lifestyle. 

As the Japanese exchange students acclimated to life at PV, they encountered a variety of new experiences, challenges and delights. The transition presented its own set of hurdles, with language barriers and cultural differences requiring adaptation and resilience. Communicating solely in English provided a significant challenge for the students, as they navigated classrooms where English is the sole language of instruction. Adjusting to the pace and cadence of spoken English adds another layer of complexity. Despite the initial difficulties, their willingness to embrace the language barrier as a learning opportunity demonstrated their resilience and commitment to making the most of their experience at PVHS.

From trying American snacks like fruit roll-ups and pretzels for the first time to enjoying the freedom to eat during class, the exchange students relished the novel experiences PV has to offer. Sana Yuyama, a Japanese exchange student, remarked on the absence of uniforms, “I like being able to decide what to wear,” highlighting the newfound freedom of expression she experiences at PV.

Among the various differences, the presence of a cafeteria offers a novel adventure for the students. Motoka Shima, another exchange student, expressed astonishment regarding the presence of a cafeteria, “The lunch is good here. There’s a lot of options and we don’t have that in Japan.”

The students have had the chance to explore a wide array of new experiences, especially when it comes to food. From indulging in water ice to s’mores, the possibilities have been endless. Nonetheless, some dishes can’t quite compare to the food back home. 

“The rice in Japan is much better,” Konatsu Imamura said while adding to the list of foods that don’t meet their Japanese equivalent. 

In their journey at PV High, the exchange students have encountered both challenges and delightful experiences. Miyana Kawano remarked on the warm reception, sharing, “Everyone is very polite; they all say have a nice day,” highlighting the genuine hospitality she experienced.

Though they returned home from their trip, the Japanese exchange students left a mark on PVHS, cultivating cultural understanding and friendships across continents. With hearts full of gratitude and minds full of memories that will last a lifetime, it was a sorrowful farewell when the students departed on April 1st.