Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Student Conquers Shyness through Ann Arbor-Hikone Exchange Program

Guest blogger Elyse Bairley, Team Sports Supervisor and Hikone Exchange Program Assistant. Mrs. Bairley served as a project director for the 2012 AAPS delegation to Japan.

Elyse Bairley
When I first met Calvin* during the application process to become a middle school student ambassador to Hikone, Japan, I couldn't help notice his reserved and apprehensive demeanor. Calvin had difficulty looking me in the eye when I asked him questions prior to walking him into the interview room. While he sat in the waiting room before the interview, he had his head down and was sweating. His mother kept saying, "Calvin, relax. You'll be answering questions about yourself, and these are the easiest questions to answer."

Despite his nerves, Calvin showed a true desire to be in the program during the interview. His answers demonstrated a willingness to learn and try new things -- he even ate sushi on camera for us!

Turning fear into confidence

Little did I know how Calvin's confidence and poise would change through the Hikone Exchange program. My first clue came after the first few of the required summer language and culture classes. Calvin started arriving early and sitting in the front row, clearly eager to learn. Although initially hesitant to speak up, he began contributing to discussions more regularly. 

As the trip to Japan grew closer, Calvin also began showing leadership skills within the group. He helped me quiet down the other students at the beginning of each class. He motivated the other students to practice the musical performance they would present in Japan. 

Calvin carried his new-found leadership skills to Japan. I remember him specifically reminding other students not to forget their carry-on bags on the trains to Hiroshima, Kyoto and Miyajima. (Something we adults constantly reminded kids to do because of how crowded the trains could be.) Calvin also formed a quick bond with his host family and brother. They shared common interests such as sports, video games and comic books. He and his exchange brother especially loved Anime and Manga.

Ann Arbor - Hikone Exchange Program offers life-changing experience to middle school students

There's no doubt in my mind that the Hikone-Ann Arbor Exchange Program offers an exceptional opportunity for middle school students to develop and grow at a critical time in their lives. The Hikone Exchange Program City-Wide Selection Committee always selects a diverse group of students to form the delegation to Japan, including students like Calvin who may not fit the traditional mold of a student leader when they enter the program. 

I can't tell you how many families have emailed me to tell me that the program was the best thing for their child. Last month, I ran into a family from the 2010 delegation at a Michigan basketball game. The parents told me that because of the exchange program, their son has expressed interest in language and other cultures. Now a 10th grader, he's considering becoming an ambassador or diplomat. 

The Hikone Exchange program is unique within the Ann Arbor Public Schools. By becoming part of a small learning community representing their American school district in a foreign country, students in the Hikone program have the chance to develop confidence, their ability to plan and perform with their peers, and of course how to share their culture and learn about Japanese culture. 

This year, we'll prepare and send another delegation of students to Japan. Find out more about the program and how to apply here

Please note: there's a Parent Orientation Meeting on Monday, March 3, 6:15 - 7:45 p.m. at the WISD. See our Hikone webpage for more information.  

*Not his real name.

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