Special to The Hawai‘i Herald
Going to Okinawa, a beautiful island with an amazing culture and many friendly people, was definitely an unforgettable experience. Going into this student exchange trip, I thought, “Wow, two weeks is a long time,” but in the end, when it was time to say good-bye, with tear-filled eyes, I thought, “Two weeks was too short.”
During my stay in Okinawa, I gained a new family, made new friends and learned through new experiences.
On this student exchange trip, I not only made new friends from Okinawa, but I also made friends with the students from Hawai‘i. On our first night in Okinawa, we stayed at the Seinenkaikan, a youth hall. We all became friends that first night and the following morning, all 15 of us were circled up in one room playing a game of “Heads Up.” Throughout the remainder of the trip, during the four field trips — to Shuri Castle, Churaumi Aquarium, the Peace Memorial Museum, Himeyuri no To (memorial museum for student nurses) and the Kencho (Okinawa Prefectural Government building) — the students from Hawai‘i became closer, as we shared stories of our host family and school experiences as we experienced the Okinawan culture together.
Going to school wearing the school uniform with my host student, Nao Tanahara, was an experience that I will always remember and cherish. Everyone at Shuri High School was so welcoming; everyone that I met was willing to take care of me. During class, they would ask me if I could understand, they would lend me their book for me to look at and follow along, and they would explain to me, in English, what they were doing. I became closest with my host student’s homeroom class. They included me in everything — their class party at a ramen shop, their senior pictures and in every class that I was with them. On the last day of school, Nao’s homeroom sang and gave me a card that they had all signed and a new backpack. I couldn’t help but cry because I knew I was really going to miss them. I still keep in touch with them through [the mobile app] LINE.
Another experience that I will never forget was the soccer game with some of Nao’s classmates, some of Erina’s, the other student I hosted [in Hawai‘i], classmates, and a few girls from the Shuri High School soccer team. I was so happy to play soccer with all of them. I can’t recall a time when I wasn’t smiling.
The Tanahara family, my host family, was also very welcoming and a very fun family. When I first met them at the Welcome Party, I was greeted with, “Hi! I’m Shoko Tanahara. Please call me, Okaasan,” and it was the same with Nao’s dad; I instantly felt like part of their family.
My host parents were great cooks; I ate so much good food! My host mom would wake up early to make breakfast and a bentö lunch for Nao, her sister, her brother and me; that was amazing because I knew how much work that took.
Another unforgettable experience with Nao’s family was when we went to a waterfall in Yanbaru called Makiya Falls. Nao’s dad showed me the “Tarzan rope” that hung from a tree above the water. Nao’s little brother, Kanto, had a blast swinging from the rope. Nao’s parents had playful, outgoing personalities. One time, laughing, they told me stories about their family and Nao got so embarrassed.
On my last night in Okinawa, we had a sleepover at Nao’s house with Erina, the other student that I hosted. The following morning, we went to karaoke with Nao’s younger sister, Rino. We sang Taylor Swift, One Direction, and Japanese and Okinawan songs together. The last song we sang was the song that all of the students sang at the Aloha Party in both Hawai‘i and Okinawa, bringing tears to my eyes.
I had an amazing stay with Okaasan, Otoosan, Nao, Rino and Kanto. I am so thankful for everything that they did for me.
I would like to thank the Okinawa Board of Education and the Hawaii United Okinawa Association for the opportunity to go to Okinawa. I have gained a new family, lots of new friends, and had so many unforgettable experiences. I now understand why people say that Okinawa is a “home away from home,” because Okinawa is very similar to Hawai‘i, but it shows its character in a different way. It was difficult to say good-bye, so I said, “See you later,” with the hope that I will get to see my family and friends again.
Kassie is the daughter of Kenton and Kris Odo. She is a senior at Pearl City High School. This past March, Kassie and her family hosted two students from Okinawa, and this past June, Kassie traveled to Okinawa on the HUOA’s Hawai‘i-Okinawa Student Exchange Program. It was the first time she had traveled without her family. Kassie visited Okinawa for the first time in 2010 when she and her family joined other Afuso Ryu sanshin students from Hawai‘i to perform in Terukina Choichi-Sensei’s 50th anniversary program in Okinawa.