Japanese students learn lots in Clarkston
April 06, 2011 - When the earthquake struck northeastern Japan last month, Yukari Furuta and her classmates near Tokyo felt it.
|Clarkston hosts welcome 10 students from Japan, taking a break from earthquake recovery to visit for a week. Photo provided (click for larger version)|
"It was very scary," said Furuta, who spent a week in Clarkston along with nine others as part of an exchange program.
"I was very worried about my family," said classmate Hiroki Yamashita.
Faye Valtadoros, Japanese teacher at the Clarkston High School, wasn't sure the students would be able to make the trip.
"When it hit on Friday I didn't know if they would come," said Valtadoros. "On our Sunday night and their Monday morning, I got an email from their teacher saying their were coming. It was a relief to everybody. I know they were still thinking about home, but they were really happy to be here."
Furuta said people were shocked, sad and confused when she left. She and Yamashita kept in contact with their family while they were in Michigan using emails and Facebook.
Their hometown of Chiba, Japan, is about 200 miles from the earthquake's epicenter. Damage was minor, but it did leave broken bridges, damages to streets and houses.
Furuta was in school at the time taking a test when she felt like she was in a ship on the waves.
She went outside into an open field, then went into the gymnasium with some of her classmates.
They waited there because they couldn't go home yet – the trains weren't working. Some students walked home or had their parents pick them up. A few stayed overnight, sleeping on seat cushions.
When they left Japan, convenience stores were empty and they didn't have bread. Electricity was on for areas for only three hours at a time, and residents had to schedule around it.
"They use candles when power is out or flashlights," said Valtadoros. "They have to make sure they have batteries."
The 10 teenagers visited Clarkston, March 20-27, attending class at Clarkston High School.
"I liked having lunch in the cafeteria and choosing lunch," said Yamashita, a sophomore in Japan.
Instead of eating in a cafeteria, Japanese students bring their lunches and eat in their classrooms, he said.
"They stay in the classroom the entire school day," said Clarkston High School junior Tim Jerolamon, Yamashita's host. "The teachers rotate. They also clean their own schools. There are no janitors."
Besides enjoying food from the high school cafeteria, the 10 visitors also enjoyed eating at local restaurants in the area.
Yamashita was excited to try Taco Bell, explaining they didn't have anything like it in Chiba.
"Tim said it was very good," he smiled.
Yamashita also enjoyed a steak from Outback Steakhouse and went to Burger King.
Furuta, a sophomore in Chiba, tried pizza from Buscemi's covered with pepperoni on one half and ham and pineapple on the other.
"They have pizza in Japan," Valtadoros explained. "But the toppings are different. They like to put tuna, corn, mayonnaise on their pizza. It's bigger here."
Furuta and Yamashita noticed portion sizes were not just bigger with pizza, but with beverages, packaging in stores, and everything else.
Jerolamon also took Yamashita to see the Detroit Pistons play basketball.
"It was great, but Pistons lost," said Yamashita.
The visitors also checked out Great Lakes Crossing Outlets and played laser tag.
"Laser tag was great," said Yamashita. "We don't have anything like it in Japan."
"It was fun," said Furuta.
Yamashita and Furuta said they go bowling and sing karaoke for fun in Japan.
Senior Zandra Russell, hosting another Japanese student, wanted her to try as much as she could fit in during the week, especially a trip to Meijer's.
"I didn't really think about it but they don't have self scans," said Russell. "We took her to Meijer's and she was fascinated. My dad scanned an item and she put it on the belt. She was like 'what?' She did the scanning."
Another trip was to CostCo, which again was huge especially in size.
Besides exploring the area, the Chiba students noticed differences in clothing, music and social interactions and relationships.
"The relationships between boys and girls, even friendships are closer than they are in Japan," explained Valtadoros. "In America we hold hands and hug."
Furuta said it wasn't strange to see but she was a little surprised. But she liked it better.
"She said clothing is cute here which is funny because my students say the Japanese clothing is cute," said Valtadoros.
"I learned how to explain my own opinion," said Yamashita. "Americans share their opinions frankly."
Clarkston students and families held a farewell party on March 26 before the Chiba students heading back to Japan.
"I love Michigan," said Furuta. "I like American people."
Wendi graduated from the University of Michigan-Flint with a degree in communications. She wrote for the Michigan Times college paper and Grand Blanc View before joining The Clarkston News in October 2007.