Last summer, the city sent a giant banner that read “Stay Strong” in English and Hiragana (a form of Japanese writing) to Osaki City signed by more than 4,000 Middletown residents. It was a goodwill act stating Middletown was thinking of and praying for its sister city, Thorn said.
“We’re really going to let them breathe because these kids have been through more than any of us have probably known,” she said.
The Sister City Program was established in 1990. This month’s group will mark the 12th trip made by guests from Osaki City, formerly Furukawa, to Middletown.
More than 55 Middletown families over the years have opened their homes to serve as hosts for Japanese visitors.
The Sister City exchange, Thorn said, “is based on the cultural exchange so that we learn about each other’s similarities and build friendships and partnerships based upon understanding and education.”
The group that comes to Middletown is immersed in American culture, Thorn said.
Melissa Malcolm and her husband, Tom Burns, hosted two of the Japanese students in 2009, and will host them again. They traveled all over Greater Cincinnati.
“We had a blast,” Malcolm said.
It’s important to be exposed to different cultures said Malcolm. While she was in high school, her family twice hosted yearlong exchange students, one from Norway and another from Denmark.
“I just think everybody needs to have a worldly view of life,” she said. “I love to see different cultures, and their culture is so different than ours.”
There was a language barrier with the Japanese students, but they overcame it with “charades” and they had a calculator-style audio translator.
“My older two (girls) and the two girls (from Japan) had a great time together,” Malcolm said. “We did lots of shopping and sight-seeing.”
Malcolm said she and the students, Haruka Sato and Mao Nanjo, still communicate today. When the earthquake and tsunami happened, panic raced through Malcolm and her family.
“They feel like my girls,” she said. “I was just horrified.”
The city had previously only sent one group to Japan, in the 1990s, Thorn said, but are in the planning stages to send a group of Middletown students to Japan next year.
“Our kids get an incredible world view opportunity, and their kids get an incredible world view opportunity,” Thorn said.