Five students and three adults ventured on the Delaware City School District's first-ever trip to Sakata, Japan, this month.
School administrators and students from Sakata have been visiting Delaware annually for the past 16 years. District leaders decided it was time for a full-on cultural exchange.
Five students were chosen among those who housed one of the Japanese students during their October visit. Dempsey Middle School Principal Andy Hatton, eighth-grade counselor Jenny Nicely, and Mayumi Ransom, who served as a translator, accompanied the students.
Only one of the students had flown internationally, and one had never been on a plane at all. Nicely said she had been only to Costa Rica, and Hatton had been to Spain.
The group left June 4 and returned June 11. Students attended class with the host students, and adults visited with administrators at different schools.
Nicely said the most-surprising aspects of the school day were how lunch was conducted and seeing the after-school assignments that every student must complete.
"At lunch time, students don't go to a central area; they stay in their classroom," she said. "The students serve lunch to their teacher and fellow classmates, and then they clean it all up."
At the end of the day, all students in all grade levels participate in cleaning, Nicely said. They move desks and clean the floors and the desktops.
"One of our students was on restroom duty and had to clean the restrooms," she said. "We thought that was a great idea and seemed to give the students an extra bit of pride in their school."
Nicely said the adults were greeted with a reception the first night they arrived. There, they met people who had visited Delaware in past years, including Sakata's mayor.
"We were not expecting such a fancy sit-down meal with speeches, toasts and many people sharing memories of when they first came to visit Delaware," Nicely said. "We were blown away by the special evening they had prepared for us."
The students participated in activities on the weekend with their host families. Some of the activities included a ferry ride to an island, karaoke and a visit to a new aquarium.
Students also took part in a family dinner at the community center, and all Delaware students helped to prepare a dish with their host families. Japanese students who visited Delaware in October also attended.
The group of eight took a day trip to Tokyo, where they went sightseeing, ate dinner, shopped and took a bus tour.
Nicely said just as the Japanese students cried when they left Delaware, the Delaware students also shed some tears.
"There were tears at the train station when we left," she said. "These families went above and beyond for us; we were treated like celebrities. We were sad to leave."
Nicely said she's already looking forward to the next trip.
"We have always called it a cultural exchange program when they visit us, but this is the first time it's really been a true cultural exchange," she said.