KETCHIKAN (AP) — A group of 11 dark heads bent over yellow cedar Native Alaska paddle replicas this past Wednesday in Schoenbar Middle School’s shop, as Gero-Kanayama exchange students sanded the wood in preparation for painting.
Local Native Master Carver Nathan Jackson was advising and troubleshooting, with chaperone and 1982 Ketchikan High School graduate Tony Hatano-Worrell stepping in to translate questions or answers. Hatano-Worrell is raising his two children with his wife, Toshimi, in an area north of Kanayama. He has been an English teacher there for nearly 19 years.
Students around the shop tables whispered to each other, compared their results and giggled as they sanded, stopping intermittently to smear pale, pungent wood dust across their grape-colored sweatshirts.
Wednesday was next to the last day of their visit in Ketchikan, and they shared a few of their thoughts with Hatano-Worrell’s help. The 12th Japanese student was absent that day.
Moe Nomura and Koya Shimazaki agreed that the dance party, hosted by Schoenbar the previous Friday, was the high point of their visit. Hatano-Worrell said that the schools they are from do not offer dances for students. The first time a teen might get to go dancing, he said, probably would be when they graduate from high school and can go to a disco.
Hatano-Worrell said Shimazaki spent much of his time at the dance being carried around on peoples’ shoulders, and the eighth-grader grinned when Hatano-Worrell pantomimed the fun.
Nomura’s friend, Fuyoko Taguchi, said she was surprised when, on her first day at Schoenbar that “they were allowed to eat snacks in schools.”
Nomura laughed and added, “They eat raw carrots!” Hatano-Worrell said that in Japan, carrots are not eaten unless cooked first.
Nomura said she enjoyed eating pizza more than any other American food, but Taguchi said her favorite was hamburgers.
Shimazaki said that turkey was the best American food by far, spurring laughter from his friends working nearby, who laughed and repeated, “Turkey!”
Several of the students said they had one or more siblings who had participated in the 25-year-old exchange program, and one had both a father and an aunt who had acted as chaperones.
Nomura said she had decided to come after her sister was in the program: “I thought it would be really fun.”
Taguchi said she was the first in her family to be a part of the exchange program, and she was eager to improve her English by participating, which she added, definitely has gotten more fluent. All three students said that trying to communicate through the language barrier was the most difficult part of their stay in Ketchikan.
Taguchi and Nomura agreed that the place they were most eager to share with the American students when they travel to Gero City and Kanayama in June was the Gero hot springs.
Taguchi said that the family picnic held at Ward Lake the previous Saturday afternoon was her favorite activity during her stay.
Hatano-Worrell said about 50 or 60 family members, chaperones, student exchange participants and program board members attended, adding that the lakeside rope swing was the biggest hit with the students.
Nearing the end of her Ketchikan stay, Taguchi already was missing Alaska.
“I would love to come back in high school as part of an exchange program,” she said, Hatano-Worrell translating.