The Seward Phoenix Log - News of the Eastern Kenai Peninsula since 1966

By Heidi Zemach
For The LOG 

Obihiro exchange teens on their way


Dot Bardarson | For The LOG

Seward’s 2013 Obihiro exchange students Meret Beutler and Karoline Ernst work alongside Seward International Student Friendship Association President Jim Herbert, enhancing the habitat at First Lake for young salmon as part of a grant from Holland America.

Ten days filled with amazing Alaska activities and adventures awaits three 16-year-old teenage girls from Seward’s sister city, Obihiro, Japan, their two adult chaperones, the host families and others who will welcome and entertain them.

The young women, Maki Kimura, Chifumi Sato and Ayaka Hashizume, their adult chaperone Fukimo Nakayama, an elderly care attendant, and Josh Neta, a translator/facilitator on behalf of the City of Obihiro, arrive in Seward on Saturday, July 27. The teens will stay until Aug. 7. The next day their American counterparts Meret Beutler and Karoline Ernst will travel to Obihiro for an adventure of their own.

“The Seward International Friendship Association and the City of Seward are looking forward to this 40th anniversary of student exchange with the City of Obihiro, “ said SIFA President Jim Herbert. “We also are looking forward to hosting the adults who are coming, and to giving all of our guests a warm welcome and an introduction into Alaska life here in Seward.”

Seward activities include beachcombing, a cookout, a community potluck, a hike to Tonsina Point and pizza with the mayor, kayaking, a cruise on Kenai Fjords Tours, a movie at the Liberty Theater, Exit Glacier, Seavey’s Ididaride and the Alaska SeaLife Center.

Maki, Chifumi and Ayaka, who have limited English skills, will be housed together throughout the visit. First they’ll stay at Meret’s parents’ hostel, the Moby Dick Hostel on Third Avenue. Susanne and Eugene Beutler’s hostel is across the street from the Ballaine House where translator Neta will stay. They’ll then will stay with exchange facilitators Deb Bond, Phyllis Shoemaker, Pete and Linda Ferkinhoff, Richard and Nancy Perea, and finally in Karoline Ernst’s family home on Kenai Lake.

Keith and Jackie Campbell will host Nakayama, and show her places of interest such as Seward Mountain Haven and Providence Seward. Their own son lives in Obihiro and is married to a Japanese woman.

The idea of the sister city exchange is to foster cultural understanding and friendship between the two cities and among their individual citizens. Over the decades many Seward homes have become filled with gifts and memorabilia from the cultural exchanges, and many resident’s memories include these treasured lifetime experiences. A similar connectedness is felt in Obihiro by those who have participated.

Herbert remembers one young teenager he and Jill hosted politely eating her bowl of Cheerios for breakfast, deliberately exposing herself to American ways when she probably would have felt more comfortable with dishes such as miso soup, yogurt and green peas. Also memorable were the looks of disbelief on the faces of Japanese exchange students attending a past Seward community potluck, when they were served a bear-meat casserole with a photograph of a bear near it to let them understand its contents. Meanwhile, two boys, one from each culture, wordlessly enjoyed challenging one another to an iPad video game.

Meret and Karoline will be housed separately in five different Obihiro homes where Japanese will be spoken around them, Herbert said. They’ll experience new cuisine, see cars driving on the opposite side of the street. The main event will be the city’s huge annual street festival. As visitors they will be expected to join the international contingent in the parade. They will likely each be given a traditional summer kimono and sandals, and taught a special dance as they parade down the street. Exchange students often are touched by the reception they usually receive, and the feeling of being respected, and honored by strangers in a faraway land, said Herbert, and the trip broadens their horizons.

With ever-rising airplane ticket prices, and an inability to purchase them more cheaply in advance, this year’s student exchange required an additional fundraising effort, Herbert said. Each round-trip plane fare was $2,850, plus $200 for train and bus travel to Obihiro, with $100 for food. The Seward City Council offered $2,000 toward their total of $6,450, and Seward Community Foundation matched that amount. Holland America also contributed $450 toward SIFA’s various exchange expenses. The girls gathered another $2,000 in fundraising including a car wash and bake sale. They thanked contributors by performing fish habitat work at First Lake, putting wood preserve on the Obihiro waterfront gazebo, and archiving the city’s old Obihiro gifts.

Another delegation of Seward officials and representatives, including Mayor Seaward, visited Obihiro earlier this year, and a return delegation of five Obihiro officials, its mayor and city council president, will visit Seward in August for the 110th Founder’s Day celebration. A delegation of local muralists is planning a visit to Obihiro to oversee the painting of a friendship mural designed by Seward’s Justine Pechuzal. A smaller replica was created here.

The Seward community is invited to meet the guests at the community potluck at the K. M. Rae (UAF Marine Science) Building Tuesday, Aug 30, at 6:00 p.m.


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