RUTLAND — Six middle school students are saying sayonara to Rutland today and konichiwa to Japan.
Every year since 1986, a handful of students from Rutland Middle School have been selected to participate in RISE, the Rutland-Ishidoriya Student Exchange. This year, those students are Katelyn Gurney, Phoebe Sargeant, Molly Engeles, Nova Wang, Loren Henderson and Alyssa Sabotka, who will be joined by chaperone Marsha Cassel.
“There were a lot of steps for us to get here,” said Sabotka, 13, whose efforts included getting letters of recommendation and lots of fundraising for the trip, which is not paid for by the school.
“Most of our time since February has been spent on fundraising,” said Cassel, who thanked the community for its generosity during these past few months.
The visitors, who will return to the United States on July 1, will spend most of their time in Rutland’s sister city, Hanamaki, which merged with the city of Ishidoriya in 2006. Hanamaki is located in the prefecture — or state — of Iwate, which is located on Honshu, the largest island of Japan.
Rutland and Hanamaki are similar in some ways; both are small cities located in states, or prefectures, with very low population density.
The students will spend much of their time apart from each other. Instead, they will be with their host families, a prospect which concerned several of the travelers.
“I am a very clumsy person,” said Engeles, 14. “I’m afraid I’m going to embarrass my host family.”
“We need to have a very good relationship with our host families,” said Sabotka.
Despite a few reservations, the students are enthusiastic about being able to sample a new culture. While Wang, 13, has visited China several times with his family, and Sargeant, 13, has lived in Connecticut, Georgia and Massachusetts, the remaining students are from Vermont and have done little to no traveling.
“I want to have real Japanese food instead of the American version,” said Sargeant.
“After I’ve eaten it, you can tell me what it is,” said Henderson, 13.
While the students are looking forward to the trip, they’re also looking forward to meeting the Japanese students, who will visit Rutland beginning Oct. 29.
“I’m really excited about when they come here,” said Gurney, 14.
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