By Joan F. Simoneau, Community Reporter
Marlborough-The cultural exchange between Marlborough and Akiruno, Japan moved forward and continued to flourish as students, educators and host families were welcomed by Mayor Arthur Vigeant and the City Council at the council’s July 25th meeting. The traditional exchange of gifts took place as introductions were made and hospitality warmly extended.
The program started 20 years ago by a group of businessmen employed by Digital Equipment Corporation from Marlborough and Akigawa City in Japan.
“Their initial interest was a business exchange but when Jeff Ozaki from Akigawa was asked by Donald Landers of the Marlborough School administration to tour the middle school, Jeff immediately initiated a student exchange by sending four students from Japan in 1994,” said Nancy Klein, a local teacher who has maintained leadership in the program since its inception.
“We sent our first group to Japan in 1998,” she added.
Eight students from Akiruno were hosted by local families from July 24 through August 2 this year. They were accompanied by Haru Liwana, principal of the Midou Junior High School; Reiga Aoki, a member of the board of education, and Yuri Ohara of the international club. The visiting students enjoyed social times with their host families along with several group activities – blueberry picking, a Paw Sox game, a visit to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and a tour of City Hall, conducted by Trish Bernard, executive assistant to the mayor.
The Geraldes family welcomed their visitor, Midon, and at first they were concerned about communicating with her.
“Instead of worrying about our different languages we tried to focus on our similarities,” said Christina Geraldes. “My 7-year-old daughter, Nina, had no trouble communicating with Midon. It was like they were friends forever,” said the proud mother whose son Thiago Borges, 12, will be going to Japan in the fall.
“With a lot of love, caring and patience we think that Midon had a great time here with us. It was a great relief to see that kids are kids. It doesn’t matter where they live as long as they are loved,” she said.
Also participating in the program was Cara Dehollan, a seventh-grade teacher at the 1 Lt Charles W. Whitcomb School.
“Several of my students visited Japan last year and had an eye opening visit that they shared with other students. It was great to open my home to Homo this year. My daughter, Daisy, a fifth-grader at Whitcomb, learned and shared so much. Google Translate helped us communicate but most experiences needed no explanation,” she said.
Eight students from the Whitcomb School and three chaperones will visit Akiruno Thursday, Oct. 20 through Tuesday, Nov. 1.
“It has been my pleasure to expand the horizons of the youth of Marlborough,” said Klein.
City Councilor Don Landers has visited Japan several times through the years and maintains an active interest in the program.