Mastering chopsticks, hi-tech toilets and the bullet train, eight lucky high school students from Blackwater and two council chaperones traveled to Japan last month for the Central Highlands Regional Council’s annual cultural exchange program.
The program aims to strengthen the long-standing Sister City relationship between the Central Highlands and Ichinoseki City Council, located in the Iwate Prefecture.
Staying with local families the group learnt about Japanese customs and traditions, while forming life-long friendships.
Chaperone and communication officer Kara Paradies said the trip included visits to the council office, schools, temples, the tsunami-affected Kesennuma area and farms, as well as a day at Universal Studios and the historic Hiroshima.
‘It was an absolutely incredible experience and we have brought back so many wonderful memories,’ she said.
‘While Japan has many beautiful sights, the people we met were definitely the highlight. All of the students agreed that the homestay was their favourite part – getting to know their host families, trying different foods and learning about Japanese life.
‘Everyone was so welcoming and hospitable, and I know the Blackwater students and their parents are looking forward to returning the favour when the Japanese group arrive later this month.’
The students were selected through a comprehensive application process and spent over 8 months fundraising for the two-week trip.
‘Not only do the students learn about another culture, they also gain invaluable life skills,’ Kara said.
‘For many of them this was their first overseas trip, but I certainly don’t think it will be their last.’
The Sister City relationship was originally forged between Fujisawa Town Council and Duaringa Shire Council in 1993, with both councils undergoing amalgamation since.
The agreement aims to foster mutual understanding and goodwill between both councils and, more globally, to contribute to world peace and prosperity.
The Japanese exchange group will arrive in the Central Highlands on 29 July 2017. They will spend a week exploring the region before heading to the Gold Coast and Sydney.