WEST COVINA — The East San Gabriel Valley Japanese Community Center (ESGVJCC), along with Sister Cities Ohtawara, Japan and West Covina, is now accepting applications for the 2013 Sister City Student Exchange Program next summer.

Participants travel to Ohtawara, located in Tochigi Prefecture, and stay with a host family for ten days. Throughout the program, students experience daily life in Japan while touring historical sites, visiting a local school, and participating in several hands-on activities, all while gaining valuable cultural awareness and understanding. For over ten years, this program has enriched the lives of over 100 students and families while bridging the relationship between the two sister cities.

Students learn calligraphy as part of the sister city exchange program between Ohtawara and West Covina.

“For someone like me, who has dreamt of traveling to Japan my whole life, joining this exchange program was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made,” 2012 exchange program participant Katherine Morano said. “Not only did I get to experience living a day-to-day life as one would in Ohtawara, my host family and I knitted a bond that will last forever.”

Many participants attribute the positive impact of the program to the home-stay experience. Living with a host family provides an opportunity, unique from any other tour, allowing students to really experience a Japanese lifestyle and create a relationship that has no cultural boundaries.

“I now have a whole other family across the ocean that I know I will forever stay in contact with,” said 2010 exchange program participant Laurie Goodman.

After the Japan visit in July, the second portion of the program takes place in August. A group of middle school students from Ohtawara come to California to stay with host families, giving the Japanese participants an opportunity to be warmly welcomed into local homes. This portion of the program allows the entire host family to engage in the cultural exchange and create a meaningful experience for the visiting students.

“We love hosting the students from Ohtawara every time they visit,” said four-time host Sherri Garcia. “They really become part of our family and I am always sad to see them leave after their short stay.”

This program is open for students ages 14-19 and is now accepting applications. The cost to participate is $2,000, which includes airfare, lodging, transportation, meals, and activities.

There will be an information meeting on Saturday, Feb. 23, at 2 p.m. at the ESGVJCC, 1203 W. Puente Ave. in West Covina.

For over 60 years, the ESGVJCC has served as bridge between culture, families, and the community. It serves the community by providing a safe environment for families to grow and experience Japanese American culture through its unique programs and services available for all ages.

For more information about the exchange program or other programs offered at the ESGVJCC, contact Executive Director Pearl Omiya at (626) 960-2566 or visit www.esgvjcc.org.

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