Kids are kids, no matter where you go.

That’s the lesson Indiana’s first lady Karen Pence took away from her visit Thursday to an elementary school classroom in Miyoshi, Japan, one of Columbus’ sister cities.

As part of Gov. Mike Pence’s trade mission to Japan, which ended Friday, the first lady brought artwork from students at Southside Elementary School in Columbus to students at an elementary school in Japan. Pence visited southside in August to lead a group of fourth-grade students through an art project known as “name creatures,” or drawings of fictional characters using only the letters of a name.

Pence then collected the students’ creations and presented them to another group of fourth-grade students at Miyoshigaoka Elementary in Miyoshi, Japan.

“They absolutely loved seeing something from the students from Southside,” Pence said. “It was adorable.”

The Miyoshi students completed the same project, and those pictures will be returned to the students at Southside soon to bring the exchange full circle.

As a former art teacher, Pence said she cherishes every opportunity to return to the classroom, regardless of where the classroom is located.

“It’s the same worldwide when you teach,” she said. “The thing that always amazes me is that I show them all the exact same thing, and you get 38 different products. The little creatures they created were all so unique.”

The first lady embarked on a similar art exchange two years ago, when she took projects from students in Lafayette to Ota, Japan, also an exchange between sister cities and schools.

While she said she enjoyed that trip, she also said Miyoshi was a more vibrant place to visit, and the students had a greater understanding of the importance of a sister city relationship.

“A lot of them know a lot about Columbus, so when their teacher told them the first lady of the state of Indiana would be visiting, I think they interpreted that as an honor,” Pence said. “I tried to make them feel very special.”

Not wanting the honor of the first lady’s presence to seem unappreciated, the Japanese students created their own art projects to give to her for her personal art collection, including origami umbrellas that can open and close.

“They told me, ‘That took a lot of time, we want you to be very careful,’” Pence said.

And while meeting the first lady made the Japanese students feel special, Pence said the trip was less about her and more about fostering a relationship among children around the world.

“Continuing this relationship with Miyoshi and Columbus is very important, especially for the young people,” Pence said. “They’re the future generation, so to develop this relationship and cultural understanding is very important.”

About the sister city relationship

Miyoshi, Japan officially became the second sister city of Columbus on Nov. 30, 1994, when Mayors Bob Stewart and Michio Tsukamoto signed a formal agreement. Since then, a yearly exchange of students from Miyoshi and teachers from Columbus has continued, as well as occasional business exchanges between the two cities. The current mayor of Miyoshi, Kenji Onoda, visited Columbus with a delegation of governmental leaders and students in August.

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Olivia Covington is a reporter for The Republic. She can be reached at ocovington@therepublic.com or 812-379-5712.