News, Culture and NPR for Central & Northern Michigan
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
91.7FM Alpena and WCML-TV Channel 6 Alpena are off the air. Click here to learn more.

Midland-Handa exchange program still going strong

From left to right: Maisy Matthews, Viktor Pangburn, Sydney Roberts and John Metcalf pose for a portrait on July 3.
Masha Smahliuk
From left to right: Maisy Matthews, Viktor Pangburn, Sydney Roberts and John Metcalf pose for a portrait on July 3.

Three students from Midland are spending these summer days making gifts, buying clothes and packing suitcases, because in two weeks their lives will change.

Midland High School sophomore Maisy Matthews and H.H. Dow High sophomore Viktor Pangburn and junior Sydney Roberts are leaving for a cultural exchange to spend three weeks in Japan - from July 20 to Aug. 11.

Pangburn and Roberts say their goal is to strengthen relationships between cultures and get to know Japanese customs and history.

“The benefit of our modern world is how globalized everyone is,” Matthews said. “This program ... makes you just a much better and well-rounded person to be able to open to those new experiences and learn from other people and ... become a global citizen, which I think is very important.”

John Metcalf, chair of the Handa Midland Sister City Committee, said the program started in 1981 when Midland-based Dow Chemical was opening a factory in Handa, Japan. The two cities wanted to build relationships, so they signed an agreement and started a student exchange.

The factory eventually closed, but the friendships continued, Metcalf said. One summer, three Midland students go to Handa, and the next summer, three students from Handa visit Midland. Each student lives with three host families for one week at a time.

“One of the things that we tell parents is that you will not get back the same people that you sent, because they will grow in those three weeks,” Metcalf said. “They will grow, and they will mature, and they will come back as different people.”

Pangburn said his family has hosted students from Japan several times. He has also been learning Japanese for two years.

“One of the things I’m really excited for is that there are going to be a lot of people talking Japanese, so I might pick up some ways ... to help me learn more Japanese,” he said. “And I’m just really excited to see everything there, I think it’s going to be really interesting to be there like tourists but staying with the families.”

Metcalf said the exchange students are selected through applications and interviews. He said they must reside within Midland, must be a sophomore or junior and must have at least a 3.0 grade point average.

“Each individual student is important, and we want to make sure that they will fit well with the program. We want to create a team,” Metcalf said. “We’re looking for somebody who can maybe ... become an unofficial leader who maybe has traveled before ... Hopefully, maybe some of the three students has a little bit of Japanese knowledge.

“We ... try to make sure that the three will work together and represent Midland well, because this is really an ambassador opportunity for them.”

Metcalf said the three students found out about their selection in the spring. This coming winter, the committee will be looking for nine host families for students from Japan for next summer.

Roberts said she has talked to her host family over the phone and is excited to meet them. She said even though the cultures are different, she is excited to find similarities.

For example, she saw a picture of her host family in front of their house and took a similar one of her own family to show them.

“I just want to really immerse myself in their culture and I want them to show me what they want to show me,” Roberts said

Matthews said living with a Japanese family will be an experience different than just travelling as a tourist. She said she is excited to meet new people, exchange cultures and visit the high school in Handa.

“I’d never get an opportunity like this again, and it truly is something so unique,” she said. “It pushes you outside of your comfort zone, which is something I feel like is so important in order to live the best life you can.”

Masha Smahliuk is a newsroom intern for WCMU based at the Midland Daily News.
Related Content