Forty Japanese students are staying in Walnut Creek and the East Bay over the next nine days. The students arrived on Tuesday, November 6, and will be in home stays with Seven Hills families from November 7 until they return to Japan on November 16.
As part of a program that Seven Hills has hosted since 1999 with the support of International Education Services, the exchange students experience American culture and traditions in the host homes of eighth graders and their families. Accompanied by a group of Japanese educators, Board of Education administrators, and translators, the students will tour local and educational sites in San Francisco and Walnut Creek, and spend the school days teaching and learning in different grade-level classrooms.
The program was started in 1999, after Seven Hills administrator Scott Espinosa-Brown was approached by a colleague who knew of a desire for a Japanese Exchange program. Long time Walnut Creek resident Mihoko Malian wanted to bring an exchange program to California. Six students from Seven Hills attended the first trip to Japan, and since 1999, many teachers have taken groups to Kita City. In February, 40 eighth grade students from Seven Hills will travel across the Pacific for 11 days with Japanese host families—visiting schools in northern Tokyo, and touring Kyoto and Hiroshima—for an immersion experience connected to classroom lessons in history, literature, language, and art. The program has grown to be a culminating highlight of students’ experience before they graduate from Seven Hills.
“Including international trips as part of Middle School education gives means for students to get out of their comfort zones to experience another culture, language, environment, and education system. Our students learn to appreciate difference and diversity firsthand,” says Espinosa-Brown. All three of Espinosa-Brown’s children are still in touch with their Japanese hosts and guests who stayed with their family over the years. One of their students has come back to visit four times.
Seven Hills teachers Alisha Marsh and Kirsten Woods are the Exchange Program coordinators. To give their students an opportunity to learn basic Japanese prior to their guests’ arrival, they began a partnership three years ago with Las Lomas High School language teacher Andrew Schreiber. Students in his Japanese Honors class have been volunteering at Seven Hills for weekly after-school tutoring sessions in Japanese conversation and etiquette—and now some of his students include Seven Hills alumni.
In addition to this collaboration with Las Lomas, the chapter of friendship and educational exchange between the two cities was formalized in 2017, when Walnut Creek and Kita Ward signed a partner city agreement in a ceremony at Walnut Creek City Hall. The formalization of these ties is expected to help strengthen the cultural and educational exchange between Walnut Creek and Kita City’s citizens.
Over two decades, the program has given hundreds of students and host families in both cities the unique opportunity to immerse themselves and learn about life in each city. “I am moved by these moments of human connection, and the ways our students are transformed by their experiences,” said Kathleen McNamara, Head of School at Seven Hills. “Not to mention the grace and gentle nature of our visitors, even in the face of all this newness.”
Seven Hills is proud of this special 20-year relationship with Kita City and the new perspectives and friendships shaped by students’ time across the ocean.