Japanese exchange students experience Midwestern culture

HASTINGS, Neb. (KSNB) - A group of young Japanese exchange students are taking in the sights and sounds of Hastings this week.

Japanese exchange students tour Pacha Soap Co. in Hastings Monday (Source: Kelsey Dickeson, KSNB)

They're in town as part of an exchange program with Hastings College. Thirteen high school and middle school students from Ozu, Japan get to explore town for the week.

On Monday, they visited Pancha Soap Co in Hastings, and took a historic walking tour of downtown. They also grabbed a bite to eat at Big Dally's Deli.

"Everyday is fun, and my host family is very kind. If I don't understand English, they teach me," said Aoi Tamanaga, a 16-year-old Japanese exchange student.

All the students are placed with a host family in the area for the week. For some, it's not their first time.

Jessica Henry, a volunteer with the Hastings International Exchange Organization, has hosted eight Japanese students the past four years.

"I have two daughters who are 13 and almost 16, and it's really eye opening to see what people from another culture, how they eat, what they eat, what their schools are like," Henry said.

Although her family doesn't speak Japanese, they find other ways to communicate with the students.

"It's kind of like charades. You just have to use your hands and just talk kind of slower for them," said Kelyn Henry-Perlich, Henry's daughter.

Michael Brooks, customer business development at Pancha Soap Co., gave students the tour Monday.

Back in high school, his family hosted students from Japan. Brooks also visited Ozu himself.

"It's just a very cool experience to have. Getting to know their side of things and then kind of combining the two. It's a blessing," Brooks said.

A translator goes with them to all major events. It's the first international experience for most of the students.

Henry said the school took a group of Hastings students to Japan last year, and they hope to take another trip next summer.

The students will be traveling throughout the Tri-Cities the rest of the week. If you see them, be sure to stop and say hello.