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Falls students experience Japanese culture

July 16, 2012

Menomonee Falls - Students at Menomonee Falls High School put their foreign language skills to the test in June by immersing themselves into Japanese culture for two weeks.

This is the 13th year in a row the Menomonee Falls School District partnered with Saijo City in Japan for an exchange program. From June 14-28, nine students in the Menomonee Falls High School Japanese program - ranging in age from sophomores to recent graduates - embarked on a journey to Japan with Director of Curriculum and Learning Gary Kiltz. Kiltz was recently promoted from his position as high school principal.

Students have to pay for the two-week trip themselves. Many do so by hosting fundraising events throughout the year.

While in Japan for the first week, the group spent time visiting tourist locations such as the Hiroshima Peace Memorial and Buddhist temples that are more than 1,000 years old.

Living a new culture

Though Kiltz said there was something extremely moving about visiting the historic landmarks in Japan, it wasn't until the second week of the trip when the students were able to fully experience the foreign country. During the last week of the trip, each student stays with a host family.

"One of the great benefits is the exchange of cultural values and cultural information so our students can experience Japanese culture and tradition by living with a family for an entire week and experience everything from different foods to different activities," Kiltz said.

For graduated senior Madeline Jaeger, it was the Japanese' polite behavior, as well as their level of dedication to school that was most remarkable to her in the second week.

"It's crazy. My host sister was the same age as me - 17 - and she would go to school all day, come home around 5 and leave to go to Cram school," Jaeger said. "I thought that was crazy how much dedication they put into school."

Cram schools are specialized schools that prepare a student for major state exams that determine a student's placement the following school year.

Kiltz agreed that the level of dedication Japanese children have to education is one thing that stood out to both him and the Menomonee Falls students.

Better understanding

Kiltz said the Menomonee Falls students also came home with a greater appreciation for the Japanese' commitment to community and understanding that every individual is a part of the whole. This message became apparent particularly when the group visited an elementary school. At the school, young students were responsible for bringing the food up from the kitchen, serving it and cleaning it up - meaning everyone worked for the better of the community, Kiltz said.

"That was the basic message throughout the community," Kiltz said. "I think the Falls students walked away with a better understanding and appreciation of that."

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