NISD, City Mark Bond with Japanese Cities

NISD, City Mark Bond with Japanese Cities
Posted on 10/09/2018
NISD, City Mark Bond with Japanese Cities

City of Nacogdoches, Stephen F. Austin State University and NISD are set to mark a 25-year relationship with sister cities in Japan, but it was a stroke of luck that got the whole thing going in the first place.

Dr. Trent Hill, then with SFA, had an intern in his office who was related to a man in Japan named Daiji Goto, president of the Nissho Gakuen Educational Corporation and the Ebino Kogen International College.

The organization headed by Goto had just finalized an agreement with the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor and the city it’s located in, Belton, Texas.

Hill wondered if it might be possible to explore a similar agreement in Nacogdoches. Turns out, it was, said Judy McDonald, mayor of Nacogdoches at the time.

Now, 25 years later, that connection remains intact and officials from Japan will be in Nacogdoches next week for three days of celebration.

“I never thought it would’ve lasted that long,” McDonald said earlier this month as plans neared completion for the upcoming visit.

It was a trip to Japan by McDonald, Hill and Southwestern Bell regional manager Eddie Arnold back in the ‘90s that set the stage for what was to follow, McDonald said.

“I didn’t speak a bit of Japanese, but it wasn’t a hurdle,” she said. “They were so nice and so courteous.”

From that initial trip sprang a bond that also grew to comprise junior high students from Japan making annual visits a couple weeks at a time each October at NISD’s Mike Moses and McMichael middle schools. Each May, students from Nacogdoches return the favor with trips to Japan.

In fact, a group of students from Japan are already in town and will be a part of the celebration Tuesday night on Pilar Street behind the Charles Bright Visitor Center in downtown.

Dignitaries from Japan, including Goto’s son, will be on hand. The group will also tour both middle schools Wednesday and attend Rotary Club at the Fredonia Hotel. On Wednesday night, a dinner is set for the group at SFA.

Daiji Goto’s father, upon returning from military service following World War II, pledged to do his part to open up Japan to the western world, McDonald said, hoping to ensure his country would never again find itself at war.

“[Mr. Goto’s] father came back from the war and said, ‘No more,’” McDonald said.

That led to the family establishing schools in Japan and provided Goto with the chance to strengthen student relationships with counterparts in western countries, McDonald said. That meant additional alliances with communities in the United States as well as in other countries.

The affiliation with Nacogdoches has strengthened over the years as students from both countries have fashioned lasting relationships that span the Pacific.

While the initial between the communities involved City of Nacogdoches and Stephen F. Austin State University, it soon expanded to include students from Nacogdoches ISD, providing a generation of middle schoolers the chance to travel overseas.

“This was an amazing opportunity for not only my sons, but also my entire family,” Lori Harkness said. Her oldest son Christopher visited Japan in May of 2014 after the family hosted a student, Yuto Ikezaki, the previous October. That meeting established a friendship between families that remains in place today.

On the trip to Japan several months later, Christopher stayed with the same student’s family when he visited Japan.

Two years after that, Yuto’s younger brother, Yuki, stayed with the Harknesses as part of the same program. “Yuki just fit in!” Harkness said.

Later that school year, Harkness’ youngest son Chandler stayed with Yuki’s and Yuto’s family in Japan. “This was again a home away from home,” she said.

In fact, Yuki later returned to Nacogdoches for a visit over the holidays before he was set to join a Japanese soccer team. Yuki got to attend games for the Cowboys and Mavericks and joined in with Harkness family Christmas celebrations.

And while Harkness’ sons have moved on past eighth-grade, the family hosted students once more in 2016.

Megan Stallworth, daughter of McMichael Middle School teacher Teri Choate, made her trip to Japan roughly 20 years ago and still maintains fond memories.

“Living with my host family who spoke very little English also made me realize that language is not the only way people can communicate,” Stallworth shared in an email. “I had a wonderful experience with my host family and I feel I learned a lot from them even though we did not speak the same language. I even communicate with my host sister to this day!”

The program of exchanging students – normally for about two weeks at a times – continues today. Choate has carried McMichael students to Japan, along with her cohort from Mike Moses, Jody Franks.

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