DECATUR — On the “to-do” lists of six students visiting Decatur from its Japanese sister city, some items might surprise you.
For example, Kaede Chiba wants to stand in a cornfield. Mika Hoshino is excited to see Lake Decatur.
Another student wrote that she wanted to visit the Lincoln Square Lounge, though it’s not clear if it was for the atmosphere or because of its name connection to the famous American president.
“They all know Lincoln. It’s funny, some of the stuff that we think they would know and they don’t, but they all usually ask about Lincoln,” said Lyle Meador, a member of the Decatur Sister Cities Committee. “They know him.”
The students arrived from Tokorozawa and met their host families Thursday. They will spend two weeks in America, including an appearance in the Decatur Celebration parade and teaching origami at the event’s Kids Block.
“They’re living in homes, so they are getting the real American experience,” said committee Chairwoman Linda Hasenmyer. “They each have a host family, and they all have individual things they’re going to do.”
The Sister Cities Committee organizes exchanges between high school students from Decatur and its two sister cities, Tokorozawa and Seevetal, Germany.
It receives about $7,000 from the city, Hasenmyer said, but also raises money independently to cover other costs.
“What we’ve found is that so many students who have gone through this program, they either get better jobs because of the international experience or they go into studies that would allow them to further that education,” Hasenmyer said. “... It’s a rich, rich group of kids who get to go, not rich in money but rich in experience.”
The language barrier isn’t as big a problem as one might think. Meador said his family has hosted several students from Japan and Germany over the past few years.
The students bring pocket translators, allowing them to type in a Japanese word that can be translated into English. Host families can also type in an English word to translate to Japanese.
And if there is an obvious problem, Meador said, the host families call Maki Ostrander, another member of the committee, who speaks Japanese.
Ostrander translated for Hoshino during an interview with the Herald & Review. The 17-year-old “team leader” for the Japanese students said she planned to bring candy, snacks and lots of pictures back to Japan from the trip.
“I thought that Decatur was a very generous and kind city because you accepted us,” she said.
Meador said his family has sent many students back to Japan with Oreos, Pop-Tarts and macaroni and cheese.
“When they get ready to go home, we’ve had in years past, some of them will threaten, ‘Oh, I’ve lost my passport. I have to stay.’ They enjoy their time when they’re over here,” he said.