IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (AP)• It’s Miku Miura’s first visit to the United States, and already the 17-year-old has photographed geysers in Yellowstone National Park, climbed on a flashy police SWAT vehicle and hopped aboard a fire truck to travel to lunch.
But her favorite part of the trip so far, has been simple.
“(I’ve) enjoyed making friends,” Miura said Tuesday with the help of a translator. “(People here) are very friendly.”
Miura, along with about 14 other student delegates ages 12 to 18, traveled more than 5,000 miles in July for a roughly 10-day visit to Idaho Falls the “sister city” of their home in Tokai, Japan.
Accompanied by four chaperones, the students had an itinerary packed with all sorts of eastern Idaho fun, including a rodeo, a visit to the Center for Advanced Energy Studies and a tour of several parts of city operations. The city tours included a police dog demonstration and a visit to the city’s crime lab. They returned home Monday.
The trip was organized through the Idaho Falls Sister Cities youth program. The longstanding program aims to further “the intercultural understanding between citizens of the United States and the citizens of Japan,” according to its website. Every other year, it sends youth to alternating countries for cultural immersion, new experiences and a chance to forge friendships across international borders.
“I think meeting each other helps them see that even though some things are different, people have a lot of similarities,” said Melinda Cebull, adult officer for the program. “They’re getting to know people they probably thought were very, very different . I think it just opens their mind to how much more there is in the world.”
The 20-some Idaho Falls student hosts have been preparing for the delegates’ visit since January, Cebull said, which includes fundraising to cover activity costs during the visit. Last year, Idaho Falls students went to Japan. Those who did so say they formed close bonds with Japanese students which have withstood the test of time.
“A lot of friendships you make do actually last,” said Rachel Cebull, president of the youth program. “The second time I hosted two years ago, I hosted a girl (from Japan) and her family then hosted me. Now, we’re hosting her younger brother — so I feel like I know her family really well, we have made a lot of memories.”
Tokai has been Idaho Falls’ sister city since 1981. The two bear several similarities. Tokai’s birth “is synonymous with the beginning of atomic research in Japan,” according to the city’s website, and it is home to a nuclear research facility. Tokai has about 38,000 people and similarly boasts an economy bolstered by sweet potatoes.
A Japanese-themed Friendship Garden located near downtown Idaho Falls was developed years ago to celebrate longtime association with Tokai and encourage international friendships, according to the city of Idaho Falls website.
Last week, student delegates got a firsthand look at several police cars, including the SWAT vehicle. Kana Kawamata, 16, climbed up the SWAT vehicle and flashed a grin to her friend down below for a photo. Kawamata said the best part was the great view of the city from up top.
“It’s very cool,” she said through a translator. “We have (similar vehicles) in Japan but I’ve never been on one. It’s a wonderful experience.”