Lacking the words to express my gratitude.
Lacking the words to say good-bye.
That's how I felt as I watched my 33 students from Japan and their incredible adult guide, Izumi, board the bus to leave. I know that feeling was reflected in the Japanese students, their host families, and their new friends clinging to them with tears in their eyes. More than one person said to me, "How do you get to love someone so quickly?"
I've thought a lot about that in the last week. How do you get so close to someone when there's a language barrier, a culture barrier, and you only have a short time to spend with them? Maybe the feelings were so intense because we knew we only had one week together, or maybe because we know how far away we'll be from each other. Maybe the feeling comes from the realization that despite all of our differences we're the same.
At the end of the students' last day at Chinook, they were part of a spirit assembly. The Chinook students cheered while the Japanese students showed them their jump rope and martial art skills. Then the gym packed with middle school students got surprisingly quiet as the Japanese students sang. As a gift from the school, all of the Japanese students received a Chinook Middle School t-shirt. Instead of running for the door when bell rang, releasing them for Spring Break, many of the Chinook students stayed. There were hugs and tears on both sides as the kids' said good-bye to their new friends.
It was just the beginning of the good-byes.
The Japanese Students stayed after school to prepare a sayonara party for their host families. They were so nervous. They wanted to do a good job to show their gratitude for the people who had welcomed them into their homes for the week.
The program started with Eri--spokesperson and emcee for the evening. She said, "We hope you forgive if we make mistakes. Time was short to prepare."
The program was both impressive and fun--more jump roping, singing, piano music, dancing, magic tricks, and even a moonwalk that brought on three encores. I could see how proud the host families were of their exchange students, even if they were only part of their family for a week.
After the program, Christie Carlson, the other coordinator, and I handed out certificates to the students and the host families. Student after student came forward with beautifully wrapped gifts for Christie and I. I was overwhelmed, and yes, I cried.
Saturday was the last day with our students. Ours was a whirlwind--trying to fit in everything we wanted to show Mina before she had to leave. We painted eggs, went on an Easter egg hunt, and made a quick trip to Seattle. But the last two hours that she was here were my favorite. Mina and my kids make Japanese candies out of a kind of marzipan clay-dough that she had brought from Japan. They made sushi and ice cream cones, little hot dogs and even a tiny, edible copy of the wii balance board. I loved watching them laugh while they ate each other's creations. As with the rest of the week, sharing and relating and being friends with few words.
Then it was time to go.
Back to the scene in the parking lot. I cried. My kids cried. The students cried. The families cried. As I watched I couldn't help but remember that a few short generations ago my grandparents were at war with these beautiful, respectful, loving people. The relationship between our two countries has come a long way since then. Its my hope that in this one short week we have done something to influence the world for good--that the two groups of teenagers will remember this experience and know that in spite of all of our differences, we are very much the same. That the relationships that were formed this week can be the seeds of greater world peace.
As I try to sum up the feelings of gratitude, joy, and sadness I've experienced this week a phrase I heard from one Japanese student who was struggling to speak English comes to mind:
"Hard to find the words."