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Fort Hayes Welcomes Japanese Exchange Students to Columbus

students of American and Japanese heritage posing in a group photo

March 28, 2024 – Ayana Hayasaka has a long list of achievements. The Japanese citizen is proficient in two languages, studied abroad in Canada, and has traveled internationally. March marked Hayasaka’s first visit to the United States and brought about a new achievement to add to her list: trying a sloppy joe. 

“This was my first time trying a sloppy joe,” Hayasaka laughed. “It was really good.”

Hayasaka is a teacher from Japan. She brought a group of students to Columbus for two weeks as part of an exchange program between her school and Fort Hayes Arts & Academics High School. The two schools have worked closely together for over twenty years, and as part of this long-standing partnership, students from both schools have the chance to visit each other’s campuses.

Students at both schools are taking foreign language classes – the Fort Hayes students are learning Japanese, and the exchange students are learning English. Hayasaka said learning a second language is an incredible opportunity for students and can open doors for their futures. 

“Learning other languages can give kids so much knowledge,” she said. “It’s important for children to learn a language but also discover a culture.”

The students from Japan are housed in different homestays around Columbus, staying with the families of Fort Hayes students. They attend classes at Fort Hayes during the day and experience American culture in the evenings. One of Hayasaka’s students, Yuu Seino, immerses himself in Columbus’ food scene. 

“This country is great – I like tacos!” Seino said. “The food here is very delicious.”

Seino is particularly impressed with the variety of food available in Columbus. He said he also sees a variety of cultures represented in the student body at Fort Hayes, and it’s something he is excited to learn about and experience. 

“There are many different kinds of people at this school,” Seino said. “I like this school a lot.”

Ja’Myah Duke is a student at Fort Hayes, and she and her family are hosting one of the Japanese students. Like Seino’s host family, they are bringing their student around Columbus to show her the culture of the city and its inhabitants. They took her to the North Market and rode scooters on the Scioto Mile, something Duke said her exchange student had never done before. These outings are one of the ways the two are learning from each other. While Duke teaches her exchange student about the United States, she learns more about Japan. 

“Having her here is very fun. [We share] my room, and I taught her how to play American video games,” Duke explained. “I get to learn about her and how Japanese school is, and I teach her about how life is here.”

Duke’s Japanese teacher at Fort Hayes, Tracy Imamura, loves seeing her students and the exchange students learn from each other. Imamura studied Japanese in college and fell in love with the language. One of her biggest regrets from high school was not taking the chance to do an exchange program, so as an adult, she put her Japanese knowledge to use and moved to Japan, where she lived for five years. 

Now, she works to inspire her students to feel the same love she felt when she first began learning Japanese. As the Japanese exchange students wrap up their trip to America, Imamura’s students prepare for their adventures abroad. Next summer, the students will travel to Japan, where they will spend several weeks attending school just as the Japanese students did at Fort Hayes. Duke has never left the country, and Imamura is excited to show her and her fellow students everything Japan offers. 

“I want my students to see that there are different ways to do things. [The American way] is not always the only way,” she said. “I have so many students who have not even left the state. It’s a big trip, and it will change their lives forever.”

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