A burger joint was the first stop Emi Shuto made after her flight from Japan to California. She had dreamed of the American indulgence since she last visited the country a few years ago. Japan claims a few McDonald’s, but Emi, 17, said nothing is like the American burger.
Emi is one of six Japanese students, ages 16 through 21, who visited California for a five-week exchange program through Lions Club International. The students traveled the state and spent two weeks with Tracy host families.
Along with the hamburgers, Emi enjoyed Disneyland, the ocean and, particularly, West High School. “High school in Japan is boring,” she said. “We just take notes. Here, there’s a lot more talking in class.”
Mika Tayamaji, 18, visited Tracy from Miyazaki, Japan, where she studies nursing. She stopped by the Tracy Sutter Community Hospital to meet with local nurses.
Tracy’s Samantha Aviles, 19, traveled to Japan through the exchange program two years ago. She stayed in a rural town surrounded by rice paddies, and she learned a little Japanese. Aviles and her parents are Emi’s host family for two weeks, and she and Emi are able to communicate through broken English and Japanese.
Three Tracy students visited Japan in July through the exchange program: Ryne Fagin, 20; Nicholas Kole, 17; and Nolan Emery, 16. Their exchange offered them a glimpse at the Japanese education system.
Ken Yasui, a longtime Breakfast Lions Club member, and his wife, Harriet, have organized the student exchange program for 31 years. Harriet Yasui said she’s seen more than 200 American students leave for a foreign country a little nervous and return with great self-confidence.
“They’re not with their parents, so they grow up a little,” Yasui said.
Japanese and American students have an interview and training process before chosen for the exchange. The Lions Club has also coordinated exchanges with students from Italy, Denmark, Australia, Belgium and Austria.