The Associated Press
TERRE HAUTE — Mao Yamauchi, a 16-year-old high school student from Tajimi, Japan, has learned much about American culture in her weeklong visit to Terre Haute.
Among her findings, “Americans like to party.” And dance. And eat lots of fries with their fast-food burgers and super-sized drinks.
But most of all, she’s learned how kind people are in the Wabash Valley and how interested they are when students and teachers visit from Tajimi. She spoke Monday during a picnic lunch hosted by Terre Haute North Vigo High School, where the Tajimi visitors were treated to a cookout in the cafeteria courtyard that included hot dogs, hamburgers, potato salad and apple pie.
Yamauchi is one of eight students, and three adults, to visit the community for the past week as part of the ongoing sister city relationship with Tajimi. The visitors, who stayed with host families, toured Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, participated in a Mayor’s Welcome program at city hall, hiked at Turkey Run State Park and canoed on Sugar Creek. They were to receive a golf lesson at Hulman Links and they enjoyed cheerleading and football demonstrations while at North Vigo Monday.
The week also included a stop at Square Donuts. Monday evening, they participated in a farewell program and today, they’re off to Florida and Disney World.
The Terre Haute/Tajimi student exchange program has continued for many years. “They (Tajimi representatives) are so interested in seeing this sister-city relationship continue,” said Erika Cantin, who helps coordinate the program. “It’s so valued in Tajimi. When we go there (from Vigo County), it’s such a big deal and they really roll out the red carpet.”
The world is becoming “ever more intertwined,” Cantin said. “To understand people from other cultures and other countries is so valuable.”
Mami Shirotori, a Tajimi junior high English teacher, helped interpret for some of the students. Over the week, the Tajimi students became more confident and outgoing. “At first they were shy, but now they are dancing and talking,” she said. The exchange program is a “very good opportunity” and experience for both Americans and Japanese to learn about each other, she said.
She went to the Farmer’s Market Saturday and people were excited to see visitors from Tajimi. “They were very welcoming,” she said. She teaches at Heiwa Junior High in Tajimi, and noted that Heiwa means “peace” in Japanese.
Shirotori had the opportunity to visit Fairbanks Park, where she admired the view of the Wabash River. Historical markers for the Wea tribe and the Paul Dresser house provided photo opportunities, as did the bronze sculpture, “A Song for Indiana.”
Hinako Yoshino, 17, a student at North Tajimi High School, had fun hiking at Turkey Run and canoeing Sugar Creek. She found everyone in Terre Haute friendly and welcoming.
And Yamauchi enjoyed seeing people dance to the beat of the music, any music; she enjoyed watching others, but was a little reluctant to join them, she said. The most memorable activity for her was canoeing and the “very kind” people she met and their “big smiles.”
Yoshino wanted to visit because “I like the USA and its culture,” especially its music.
Marilyn Stephens, whose family hosted one of the adult visitors, has traveled to Tajimi twice with two daughters as part of the exchange program. Her family also has hosted three Japanese students in the past. “I want my kids to be exposed to other cultures and other languages. I just think it’s important for us to know how other people live.”
Another of the visitors, Hideki Kawamoto, first visited Terre Haute about 24 years ago — and this week was his first time back. He had been a teacher and now is an administrator in Tajimi. On his last visit, 20 Japanese junior high students came to America. This time, he accompanied four high school and four junior high students.
“We’ve had a wonderful time,” he said.