Visiting another country can be exciting and thrilling: a faraway destination with its own unique and diverse activities and new experiences to be had, along with customs and languages that may not be familiar. From sightseeing to cuisine-tasting to meeting unfamiliar faces, travelling can be a fulfilling undertaking for all ages.
Last Sunday, a delegation from Ichihara, Japan, landed at the Mobile Regional Airport. The small group comprised of 10 teens and preteens, as well as a couple of chaperones, arrived looking forward to a week of fun, learning and entertainment in our Port City. The children will spend time with their host families in Mobile and experience various aspects of the city for more than a week.
Mobile and Ichihara became sister cities on November 3, 1993. At that time, Mobile–Ichihara Sister City Association (MISCA) was founded. It’s a volunteer-based organization that promotes cultural and educational exchange. Ichihara is in the Chiba prefecture, on Tokyo Bay, which puts it about an hour and a half away from Tokyo by train. MISCA strives to maintain the sister-city relationship through youth exchanges and cultural events. Ichihara is not the only sister city that Mobile has.
“I believe, out of all Mobile’s sister-city relationships, the Ichihara relationship is one of the most active,” Lauren Buerger, a member of MISCA, said. Each year, 10 students from grades eight through 12 and two chaperones travel to Ichihara or Mobile. Last year, Mobile sent children over for the yearly exchange, and they also celebrated the 25th anniversary of the sister-city relationship. Normally students visit in July, due to scheduling with schools, but in 2020, Mobile’s delegation will visit Ichihara in November because of the upcoming Summer Olympic Games.
“I became a member of MISCA in 2017 when I decided to focus my master’s thesis on sister cities,” Buerger said. “I wrote it on intercultural communication between sister cities, using Mobile and Ichihara as a case study, and that’s what caused me to become a member [of MISCA].”
Her role, as an active member of the organization, is to attend meetings and help plan events including the student exchange. “What I love most about MISCA, and sister cities in general, is that it provides a personal connection to another part of the world. The organization allows me to learn more about my sister city’s culture and make lifelong friendships,” she said. “I see how exchanges can influence people’s lives. My research allowed me to visit our sister city in Japan and I was treated like family. The bond that exists because we are sister cities is what I enjoy the most.”
The students who traveled to Mobile will have a wide range of endeavors to participate in while visiting. “We try to have all sorts of activities planned so the families who host are able to provide somewhere comfortable to stay,” said Yuko Jordan, the former president and current secretary of MISCA. “If you stay with a friend or a relative when you go somewhere, you get to see more of the local places, so with an international situation, it’s easier for these kids to stay with a family.”
During their time here, they will meet the mayor, tour Dauphin Island Sea Lab and watch a BayBears game to name a few activities. “Even though [the time is] short, the families and the kids really bond and get to know each other,” Jordan said. Some families have plans to show the visiting children their everyday lives, like taking them grocery shopping, or taking them on a day trip to New Orleans. “There’s plenty to do in the short period of 10 days!”
This Thursday, July 25, from 2-6 p.m. at the Mobile Museum of Art, a public event will take place. The visiting children will participate in a talent show and participate in hands-on activities. The performances will consist of singing, cheer dancing and playing the Japanese musical instrument koto. In between the shows, the children will lead the audience in attempting activities such as calligraphy, counting with an abacus and trying on a summer kimono.
“We don’t want to be the best hidden secret, by any means! People get surprised that there is a sister city here,” Jordan said. “Next year we will be going to Ichihara. They’ll go to schools and visit Tokyo.”
When selecting which children stay with which host family, an application process begins. Different likes and dislikes are taken into account. “We try to match up the host family with a student who has similar interests. We don’t want to put the kid who hates to swim with someone with a pool!” Jordan said.
It takes a community to show our international students the best of our city. “I think we can do more,” Jordan continued. “We have a few sponsors, but these families are taking the kids out all on their own. We always would be more than happy with any help from local businesses or anyone interested, and we’re always appreciative of the mayor’s office, which is very open and welcoming.”
For more information visit miscamobile.com.
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