Sister Cities trip to Japan

Members of Redlands Sister Cities project during a trip to Japan March of 2019.

The last time students from Redlands went to Hino, Japan, on the Redlands Sister Cities was in March 2019 during spring break. As programs come back from a hiatus from the pandemic, so too Redlands high school students will have the opportunity to apply and get accepted to go to Hino in March of 2023.

“My grandpa was first generation Japanese who grew up in Hawaii,” said Caitlin Arakawa, board director for Redlands Sister Cities. “His parents were from Okinawa.”

She was one of the chaperones at the last student exchange trip to Hino in 2019 who had a personal connection to Japan. Not all who travelers have that kind of connection, some go for the experience.

Each student stays with a host family who has a similar aged high school student explained Arakawa. On the trip students visit the local school, the local fire station, meet the mayor, visit museums and go to Kyoto for example.

“We had a student, Taylor Young, who went through the program 20 years ago. She kept in contact with her host family and now she teaches English in Okinawa for a year,” said Roy Cencirulo, president of the Redlands Sister Cities Chapter.

“We have to have different perspectives of how people live and learn and the way you can do that is by making that personal connection,” he said. “When our students come back from their experience, many of them say it’s changed their lives.”

Cencirulo grew up in Rialto and went to the University of Redlands. During college he went on an exchange program to go to Japan for a year.

“I lived with a Japanese family, and it changed my life,” he said. “I try to keep up with my Japanese today.”

There is a reason for why high school students are invited to this exchange program.

“Having that during high school age is so impactful. They are still trying to figure out the world around them. Their ideas of the world, about cultures are still forming so give them this experience and get them a little uncomfortable and trying new things, makes them more accepting, more tolerant and open-minded human beings,” said Arakawa.

In 2019, 16 students went to Hino, Japan. Next year, 14 Japanese host families are lined up.

After applications have been approved, Redlands Sister Cities help with fundraising by hosting a garage sale. The students write letters with their host families to get to know them prior to the visit. Two chaperones go with the students for the 12-day trip.

Requirements include for students to be within the Redlands School District at the high school level and have proof of a Covid vaccination. The student will have to fill an application online including a short essay of why they want to go to Japan. Cost per student is approximately $1,800 to $2,400 including airfare, railway transportation and other travel expenses. The plan is for the Hino students to come here in the summer of 2023.

“What I love the most is seeing the students interact. I remember some students were hanging back with the Japanese high school students and while they weren’t proficient in each other’s languages, they were able to connect on so many things. Kids are kids whether they are in Redlands or in Japan,” said Arakawa.

“I get teary eyed when I see a student that has this kind of aha-moment when they have made a connection that even though they are from different cultures, there are some similarities in their experiences,” said Cencirulo.

“My hope is these students will have a better understanding of the world and be more empathetic for people who might look different from them.”

Essay and application from Redlands high school students need to be sent in by Friday, Dec. 2, to the Redlands Sister Cities chapter.