A group of 21 students from Journey Middle School will have what for many will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity as they travel to Japan on March 14.
The students will spend four days in Tokyo before travelling to Sooke’s friendship city, Natori, before returning to Sooke on the March 21.
It comes as part of a longstanding relationship with Natori that stretches back 20 years and which last year saw students from Natori travel to Sooke where they lived with local families for the duration of their visit.
The same sort of arrangement will be in place this year as the Sooke students will be housed with local families in Natori, giving them a chance to experience local life.
“The students will be escorted around by families and will be doing activities with the schools there,” Kelly Dvorak, one of the three chaperone/supervisors of the trip, said.
“It’s going to be a fantastic opportunity. I’ve been there once before and before that my two daughters both went. It’s a trip they’re not going to ever forget.”
Maggie Whiteley, one of the students headed to Japan, finds it hard to contain her excitement.
“This is going to be amazing. The furthest from home I’ve ever been is Mexico and this is just so exciting,” Whiteley said.
For another student, McKenna Tayler, the trip is a chance to renew a friendship she made last spring when her family hosted a Natori student in their Sooke home.
“I’ve stayed in touch with her and it’s just going to be amazing to see where she lives and learn about her culture,” Tayler said.
In a singular development that sets this student outing apart from past trips, Mayor Maja Tait will be joining the students in Natori.
Her presence there comes as a result of an invitation from Natori (they are picking up all the expenses of the trip) to help move toward a formal sister-city arrangement.
“I could have gone at any time, during the Olympics, for example, but I thought it would be great to be there at the same time as some of our students were enjoying the culture. I’m looking forward to becoming part of that experience as well,” Tait said.
“These trips are so important. The world can seem a frightening place, but travel makes you more open minded, more inclusive in your thinking and creates a greater empathy for people outside your own country.”
Winona Johnston, another of the trips supervisors, agrees with Tait’s assessment.
“I see it as an educational, cultural experience; experiences that you wouldn’t get here. It’s going to open their eyes to other cultures and perhaps create an interest in more travel in the future,” she said
While Tait is in Natori, she will be paying close attention to their disaster preparedness.
On March 11, 2011, the City of Natori was hit hard by the tsunami that followed a devastating earthquake. The death toll in what followed was roughly equivalent to the entire population of Sooke.
“I’ll also be looking at their recycling and waste management. You can walk down the street in Tokyo and, even with that massive number of people, there’s probably less litter than in Sooke. I want to understand what it takes to get to that point.”