Two East Central High School students had the opportunity to travel to Osaka, Japan, over the summer through the Indiana University Honors Program in Foreign Languages.

Jayna Pennington, daughter of Jim and Jennifer Pennington, Cedar Grove, and T.J. Carr, son of Russ and Elisa Carr, Guilford, spent five weeks in the Asian country. Since 1962, 38 ECHS students have gone through the IUHPFL, but these two are the first to participate in the Japanese program.

"I have been taking Japanese class at East Central High School for three years. It is one of my favorite classes," Pennington says. "I originally wanted to take Japanese when my father told me that he visited Japan for a business trip many years ago. He told me about the culture and since then I have wanted to learn more about Japan and visit there some day. With IUHPFL's program, it allowed me the opportunity to experience being fully immersed in the Japanese language and culture for five weeks. This seemed like a safe, effective and life-changing program that I simply could not pass up."

Carr was interested "because I wanted to better my Japanese and have a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I started learning Japanese freshman year at East Central. I chose Japanese as my foreign language because I want to have a career in technology, specifically computers, and Japan is a leading nation in those fields."

"My host family was the Maruyamas. They were great!" he reports. "I called my host mom Maruko and my host dad Marusan, their preferred nicknames. My host siblings were Mika and Yuuma, twin brother and sister, who are two years younger than I am."

Pennington stayed with the Kosamochi family, which included father Madico, mother Hiromi and son Yuta. "Madico works as an electric train driver/conductor. Hiromi works in human resources at a hospital. Yuta is 16 years old and is a first year at Osaka High School. They were very welcoming to me when I first arrived in Osaka and helped me with my questions and my homework."

"I went to school during the weekdays and took classes on literature, grammar, communication, culture and linguistics .... I was able to participate in after school activities and interact with other Japanese students. Some of our Japanese friends ate school lunches with us!"

Carr says his summer in Japan was "amazing. I met so many great people and learned so much. I'll remember this trip for the rest of my life."

However, both teens admit there were some difficulties. "One of the biggest challenges for me was just the language barrier," Carr reveals. "When it comes to Japanese, I'm certainly not fluent, so if there's something I'm thinking, but I don't know the words for it, I just don't say it. I can't, I don't know how to. Sometimes a quick e-dictionary check will amend that, but most of the time the thoughts would require a grammar concept that I don't yet know. So that forced withholding of thoughts was quite challenging at times."

Pennington reports, "One of the challenges I experienced was trying to learn Japanese classes, while only being able to speak in Japanese since the lessons were taught in Japanese. It was very confusing sometimes, but it really helped my listening and conversational skills tremendously.

"I learned many different grammar forms, vocabulary words, kanji characters and their meanings and how to be able to converse well. We also studied the dialect of the city of Osaka, as well as many manners, customs and traditions of the Japanese culture."

Carr points out, "My Japanese drastically improved, and not just the technical stuff like vocab, grammar or kanji; my biggest growth was probably just in capability of casual conversation as well as annunciation."

The Southeastern Indiana Honors Band member emphasizes that Japanese schools are very different from American ones. "Students have more freedom, school starts a bit later and kids can stay after school later for activities. The shape of the school is also drastically different, as they tend to be four large multistory buildings connected with covered walkways with a courtyard for a sports field in the center."

Pennington adds, "I noticed that people in Japan usually take the train or bike to their destination. It is rare to drive in a car. Japanese people are more considerate and thoughtful of their resources and their environment. People will carry their trash with them, since there are not many trash bins. The people keep the streets clean. It is very crowded in Japan, and the people are quiet and patient with each other.

"One of the main similarities that I noticed between the American and Japanese cultures is the manners and respect toward the elderly/disabled people."

"We had time to go sightseeing on the weekends or after school with our host families," the 4-H member announces. "I went to places like Osaka Castle, Koya-san, Osaka Aquarium, the Ramen Noodle Museum, a Cat Café, Universal Studios and a day trip to Kyoto.

"Osaka Castle is also known as the white castle and is one of the most famous places to visit in Osaka. Koya-san is a sacred mountain that hosts many temples and places of Buddhist worship. We got to copy the Heart Sutra and visit the temple where the monks performed traditional prayers. Traveling to all of these places allowed me to see the deep roots of the ancient Japanese culture while bonding with my host family and friends."

Carr went "sightseeing to quite a few historic locations, most of which were temples and shrines, such as Koya-san, Kyoto, Isejinja, Takarazukajinja and a few others. But we also got to go to more modern places like Takarazuka Grand Theater, America Mura, Expo City and some more.

"I think out of everything I did, and everyone I met, I'll likely remember my host family the most. They were amazing, and I still message them every now and then.

"I hope that this experience will have helped my Japanese, and that I can put that to good use in the future."

Pennington adds, "I will remember the time that I have spent with my host family and friends, and the good memories we have made and the adventures we experienced together. I also will remember the time spent at school and the many different aspects of the Japanese language and the culture that I have learned.

"Now that I have gone to Japan, I will be able to have a greater understanding of the language and will be able to relate to the culture. I feel like I will be able to go into college confident in my language skills in general. Who knows what job opportunities will happen because of this experience!"

She emphasizes, "Japanese people are very nice and respectful. However, if you want to visit Japan, it would be recommended to have the same respect and kindness toward the people and the land."

Diane Raver can be contacted at diane.raver@batesvilleheraldtribune.com or 812-934-4343, Ext. 114.