This week, 43 Japanese high school students will visit the Pecos Senior Center for an International Intergenerational Celebration that's sure to be remembered.
The students are part of a program brought to the U.S. by PeopleLink. Each year, the company brings students to the U.S. as part of their school year to see how Americans prepare for Christmas. The students will be living with families in Ahwatukee and Tempe.
The senior center is the student's first stop during their trip to America. On Monday, the students are expected to arrive at the senior center at 9:30 a.m. to teach calligraphy, origami, and Japanese flower arranging. They will also give a short performance and then enjoy a pizza lunch with the seniors before leaving to go tour Arizona State University.
"I just thought this was a great diversity thing for the seniors and for these kids to see an older population, but certainly a very different older population than they see in Japan," said Terri Roza, Pecos Senior Center supervisor. Roza was contacted in early fall to see if the students could be allowed to come for a visit.
The students are required to do some volunteer hours with seniors during their trip. Last year a group came to Arizona and spent some time at an assisted living community, but this year the company tried to find a group that could get more involved in the activities.
"Last year, we went to an assisted living facility and it was very difficult for the students to engage with the seniors because they were so needy," said Pascale Duton, an Ahwatukee Foothills resident who has helped organize the trip activities. "When they returned to Japan they asked me if I could please find a senior center that had active, engaging, happy and able seniors. I started looking around, and I live in Ahwatukee so I figured the Pecos Senior Center would be a good one to start with. It's centrally located to where we are meeting and since the families are already so generous in opening their homes during such a busy time of the year, I wanted to avoid having the families be in their cars driving the students back and forth to far away places. This is all within a mile or two with where they will be living."
Duton works full time for an organization called International Student Exchange. She organizes full-year visits for foreign students interested in studying abroad in Arizona. She said rarely in her full-year program do they get requests from Japanese students. Most Japanese students decide to study English in Australia. When she was contacted by PeopleLink and asked if she would arrange a five-day trip for more than 40 Japanese students, she decided to take it on.
"They came to Arizona for the first time last year, and they loved it so much they have decided to come back to the same state," Duton said. "Usually they go to a different state each year, but they were so impressed with Ahwatukee and Tempe they decided to come back. I think the media does not give a correct picture of what a true American family is. I think it's great when a family opens their home and embraces a foreign student and allows them to go to school. That student returns home and tells friends, neighbors and family members what his or her year abroad was like. I feel like you need to experience it."
After their visit to the senior center, the students will make gingerbread houses at a park on Tuesday morning and have a farewell celebration with their host families in the evening. On Wednesday morning they leave for the Grand Canyon before returning home to Japan.
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