Elk Grove High School is hosting 11 visitors from its Japanese sister schools, Ashikodai High School and Ashitandai High School.
They arrived March 7 as part of the 26th annual Japanese Exchange Program and are leaving Friday, March 21.
The visiting contingent is led by Teruo "Terry" Yamaguchi, who co-founded the program in 1988 and has coordinated the Japanese side of the exchange ever since.
During the stay, the nine students and two faculty members enjoy a wide variety of American and Chicago area experiences. Most important is the chance to interact with their host families at home and Elk Grove students at school, including those studying Japanese as a world language.
Additional activities include a "food and fun" time at the school, ice skating at Millennium Park, going to the SkyDeck at Willis Tower, visiting the Museum of Science and Industry and the Art Institute, and attending a musical, Chicago Symphony Orchestra quintet, and a Bulls game. The guests join students from program coordinator Cliff Darnall's Japanese classes for a field trip to the Mitsuwa Japanese Market in Arlington Heights.
Fourteen families are involved in hosting.
"I never expected the program to affect me this much," said Elk Grove High School senior Rhenee Pass, who is hosting for the fourth time. "Through the years and with all the friendships I've made, not only with the Japanese exchange students but with the American hosts as well, the exchange has changed my life. The experiences I've had in Japan and here through this program have made these past four years some of the best of my life."
Japanese head chaperon Yamaguchi is staying at the home of world language teacher Ralph Scalise, and chaperon Atsuo Kamata is being hosted by biology teacher Cindy D'Alessandro and retired EGHS math teacher Bernie Kelly.
The Japanese students and their student hosts are as follows: Eri Iwazaki, hosted by sophomore Elizabeth Bauer; Midori Kashiwase, by senior Shannon Chan; Risa Kawachi, by sophomore Nikki Sugiura and junior Alex Arndt; Chihiro Niki, by senior Morgan Garvin; Kohei Ohmori, by seniors Raul Hurtado and Jacob Anderson; Mizuho Ono, by sophomore Kristen Fidler; Minori Sakaimoto, by senior Rhenee Pass; Tomohiro Seya, by Rolling Meadows High School junior Trevor West, who commutes to EGHS for Japanese class; and Mayu Watanabe, by Arndt and senior Stefani Stamboliyska.
The many cultural activities as well as many of the opportunities the Elk Grove students will experience during their return visit to Japan in June are made possible through various donations, many from local Japanese companies and individuals.
The program has given hundreds of students on both sides of the Pacific the chance to experience life in another culture and develop close international friendships over more than a quarter-century.