Oshima teens bid emotional farewell
CAMP FOSTER, OKINAWA, Japan -- Families bid farewell Aug. 6 to the Oshima students they had hosted during a ceremony marking the conclusion of the 3rd annual Oshima youth cultural exchange program at the Kishaba Youth Center on Camp Foster.
The program is dedicated to promoting the social and cultural education of U.S. teenagers and children by organizing visits and cultural exchanges with the children of Oshima, Kesennuma, Miyagi prefecture, Japan, which was affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake and subsequent tsunami of 2011.
The Oshima students arrived July 31 for their weeklong visit. They stayed with U.S. host-family volunteers who opened their homes and hearts to the group.
“It’s a really sad day that I have to leave my host family,” said Saya Onodera, a 15-year-old student and second-time participant. “I enjoyed my time here, so it’s very hard to say goodbye.”
Onodera’s sentiment was shared by all who participated in the exchange.
“It was great to just have them here as a part of our family,” said Cullen A. Ohashi, a host-family volunteer and Family Care Branch chief, Marine Corps Community Services Okinawa. “You get attached to these children, and it’s hard for my wife and I to say goodbye.”
The visiting participants interacted with American youth at many events and trips during their stay.
“My favorite thing about having the students here was just getting to spend time with them at all the events,” said Brittany E. Butler, an 18-year-old host-family volunteer. “I think the hardest part about them leaving is going home to an empty house. (My family) bonded with Megumi (Kikuta), and it’s sad to know she won’t be coming home with us.”
As the Oshima students head back home, some have high hopes about possibly returning next year, and all will be recommending the program to their peers.
“I’m definitely going to encourage all my friends and classmates to participate in the program,” said Onodera. “I’m going to miss everything. I really enjoyed my time here and being with my host family. I’m very thankful and grateful that I was able to come and meet with the families and participate in the program.”
While next year’s program has not been finalized, the program coordinators are excited to build on this year’s success, according to Ohashi.
The host families all shared a similar sentiment, as they would do it all again in a heartbeat.
“They have really become like family to us,” said Butler. “We would definitely volunteer again. It’s as life-changing for us as it is for the students.” It has expanded my family’s cultural horizons.”