The Roseburg Kuki Student Exchange program is extending its deadline to encourage middle-school students to participate in the cultural experience of traveling to and hosting students from Kuki City, Japan.

“It’s good to see other cultures to understand how they work,” said Isabella Kloha, a Roseburg High School student who traveled to Japan in 2014 when she was 13. “It will also change your views of the world.”

In its 32nd year, the exchange program is a two-year commitment. During odd-numbered years, U.S. students host Japanese students for 11 days in July. During even-numbered years, U.S. students visit Japan for 11 days in July.

JoLane Middle School student Marin Gray, now 12, traveled to Kuki City last summer. She will host a Japanese student this year from July 24 to Aug. 3.

“It taught me to appreciate different cultures and it opened up my world view,” Marin said.

She said she felt safe and comfortable in Japan. She also said the U.S. students are not free to roam and are either paired with others or their chaperones. The U.S. chaperones are exchange program director Paul Whitworth and his wife, Allison. Both have taught in the Glide School District.

“The chaperones and the families take good care of you,” Marin said. “It’s a really good experience.”

The program is currently recruiting students to host Japanese students for this summer and then to travel to Japan in 2018.

“Hosting first is the better way to go,” Whitworth said. That’s because U.S. students get a chance to meet the Japanese students and their chaperones and to make a personal connection with them before they travel to Japan.

By hosting first, U.S. students also have a chance to raise funds through fundraisers throughout the year to offset travel expenses to Japan in 2018. Expenses are estimated at $2,000 for airfare.

Whitworth anticipates that some parents hold fears about sending their children abroad during a time when terrorism exists in the world.

“For many families, it’s fear of the unknown,” Whitworth said, who travels often. “Japan is a really safe place, and travel is safe.”

While American students may be hesitant to travel abroad, the Kuki City exchange program in Japan has a long waiting list of students eager to visit Roseburg, even after the Umpqua Community College mass shooting.

“If they are willing to send their kids here and put their faith in American people to take care of their kids here, why can’t we do the same,” Whitworth said.

To prepare for hosting and traveling, the U.S. students must also meet about once every three weeks for several months before July. Fundraising also takes place to decrease the travel costs.

Connie Kloha, student Isabella Kloha’s mother, believes the cost for airfare is reasonable for a trip overseas. She said the host family and Kuki City cover expenses for food, boarding and travel within town.

“Anytime you can expose young people to what is beyond the realm of their normal experience is a wonderful opportunity,” Connie Kloha said. “I gave my daughter spending money and she brought most of it home.”

She encourages students to participate in this life-changing program and considers this a rare opportunity to travel outside of Oregon, since many students have never left the state before.

Marin’s mother, Dr. Andrea Gray, encourages students and families to participate in this program because students experience complete immersion in the Japanese culture, which differs from visiting a vacation resort.

“Japan is much safer than the United States,” Gray said. “It’s a very orderly society that values children, they are very responsible. I had no hesitation what so ever in letting Marin go. Plus, it’s with a group.”

For more information about the program, contact Paul Whitworth at 541-672-6303 or by email at whitworths@charter.net. Also visit the Facebook page at Roseburg Kuki Student Exchange for photos from last year’s trip.

Reporter Vera Westbrook can be reached at 541-957-4216 or vwestbrook@nrtoday.com.

Vera Westbrook is the education, nonprofits, and arts and entertainment reporter for The News-Review. She can be reached at 541-957-4216 or by email at vwestbrook@nrtoday.com.

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