Best School-Sponsored Trip – Hiratsuka, Japan

Lawrence Sister City Exchange Program organizes annual voyage for cultural lessons


Aidan Rothrock

Photo courtesy of Aidan Rothrock

Many students’ only knowledge of Japan comes from anime and Americanized sushi restaurants. The Lawrence Sister City Ex- change program aims to change that.

For the past 25 years, the Lawrence Sister City Exchange Program has facilitated annual trips to Hiratsuka, Japan for secondary students. Posters, announcements and student testimonials have made the voyage a popular pick among high school students.

This past summer, 18 of the top program applicants got the chance to fly to Lawrence’s sister city, Hiratsuka, which is a suburb of Tokyo, Japan. The group spent 10 days staying with host families and seeing and experiencing the local culture.

“While we are in Japan we always get to visit a grade school and middle school, sometimes a high school,” trip coordinator Cathy Hilliard said. “We usually visit a shrine or temple, an active volcano and sometimes the beach.”

Hilliard and her husband, James, have been facilitating sister city exchange with Hiratsuka for 15 years and have taken students four times. The couple hosts the Japanese students when they visit Lawrence for 10 days.

The students get into the program because of their ability to illustrate their desire to experience and share different cultures, but what the trip means to them differs individually.

“I went to Japan in the summer of 2013,” Free State sophomore Seamus Herrod said. “I wanted to be really able to immerse myself in the food culture of Japan and be able to eat like them. If you go to a Japanese restaurant in America, you’re not really eating like a Japanese person, you’re eating like an American person trying to be Japanese. When you go Japan, you’re really able to eat like the Japanese people eat. I really liked the way we were able to meet a lot of people and make connections internationally.”

I really liked the way we were able to meet a lot of people and make connections internationally.”

— FSHS Sophomore Seamus Herrod

Aside from trying an array of foreign cuisine, the students get to see an urban setting different than the United States.

“The cities are really close together, so it’s hard to tell when you leave one city and enter another,” Lawrence High sophomore Aidan Rothrock said. “It’s really weird. It’s so different from here.”

The selection process for delegates beings early in the preceding school year. Applicants are interviewed in October by the Sister City board, and 16-20 delegates are selected.

As well as traveling to Hiratsuka, delegates are expected to host students from the sister city in their own homes and accompany them to various events designed for the visitors.

The Sister City program works to connect students to cultures outside of their own and make connections with people worldwide. Hilliard believes that students gain a broader perspective when they go on the exchange trips.

“We hope they gain a better understanding of new cultures and an appreciation of the fact that being an ‘American’ is embracing all cultures,” Hilliard said. “All Americans came from some place else after all. Many of the students that have gone on this trip have made life-long friends.”

2nd Place: Chicago Orchestra Trip

3rd place: Washington D.C.

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