Wayne Brakel, one of the group scheduled to leave July 18, owns Japanese artifacts, including this figurine that is a symbol of welcome.
TEMPERANCE -- Wayne Brakel is thinking Japanese.
The 18-year-old just graduated from Bedford High School and is to leave for Hofu, Japan, July 18 for a three-week trip sponsored by the Monroe International Friendship Association.
He and four other students from Monroe County will make the trip to Hofu, which has had a sister city relationship with Monroe since 1993. The students must pay for their plane tickets, and will be housed with host families. Other expenses will be covered by Hofu.
For Mr. Brakel, the trip will be an opportunity to use the Japanese he studied for two years in high school through the Distance Learning Program offered by the Monroe County Intermediate School District.
Japanese is daunting at first, he said, but gets easier once the first 96 symbols or characters are learned.
Rachel Pack, a senior at Monroe High School who also will make the trip, agreed. She said she studied Spanish for three years and found Japanese to be easier to pick up. "The pronunciation is a lot easier than English," she said.
Masado Matsuura, Hofu's mayor, has visited Monroe four times, most recently in May.
Kim Steve, president of the international fellowship association, said Japanese language training is not a requirement for the exchange students.
Joanne O'Leary, the school district's Japanese teacher, conducts her classes from Dundee High School via an interactive video network.
"It's really like a teleconference. It's all live. Everyone can see and hear everyone else," she explained, adding that she is the only Japanese teacher in Monroe County.
Mr. Brakel's interest in Japanese extends beyond studying the language. He has arranged his bedroom in a simple, uncluttered style and keeps Japanese artifacts, including a maneki-neko, a figurine of a beckoning cat that shopkeepers use to welcome customers.
In the fall he plans to major in premedicine at the University of Toledo, where his father, Tim, is chairman of the music department, but expects to pursue minor studies in Japanese at UT.
The elder Mr. Brakel also is a Bedford school board member.
Mrs. O'Leary said she hopes her students make the most of their trip. "They should try everything, be bold, and take advantage of the opportunity in front of them. They'll appreciate it and their hosts will be happy they did," she said.
Ms. Steve said the exchange students over the years have returned with glowing reports about their trips. "One student told me she went away as a shy girl and came back a lot more confident. Even though it was just a three-week program, it was a life-changing event," she said.