A student exchange program between Seward and its sister city of Obihiro, Japan, will be held virtually this year after it was canceled last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The exchange program had been held every year since 1973.
In a May 20 letter to Seward Mayor Christy Terry, Obihiro City Mayor Norihisa Yonezawa said the city was canceling the exchange program this year due to a state of emergency declared by the Japanese government and COVID mitigation efforts in their city. However, the two cities have since decided to host the program virtually.
“It is extremely unfortunate that our high school students will not be able to visit and experience each other’s cities and interact with each other, but of course the health and safety of both our citizenry must come first,” Yonezawa wrote.
Seward Deputy City Clerk Jessica Stallard said Wednesday that Seward students will still participate in activities they would have with Obihiro students, but they’ll do so from Seward. A video compilation of students participating in their activities will be sent to Obihiro, where their students will compile a similar video.
Seward’s sister city program is open to students at Seward High School. In a typical year, a maximum of four students are selected for the program and go to Japan for 10 days, where a student exchange coordinator sets up activities and home-stays for students. Similarly, four students from Obihiro are sent to Seward with an exchange coordinator and participate in activities and home-stays in Seward.
Obihiro has been Seward’s sister city since 1968, and the two have exchanged students since 1973. The city is located on the island of Hokkaido in northern Japan. Seward is Obihiro’s oldest sister city — others include Chaoyang in Liaoning province of the People’s Republic of China, and Madison, Wisconsin. Seward and Obihiro celebrated their 50th anniversary as sister cities in 2018, with delegations from each visiting the other’s cities during that year.
This year, Seward students Rowan Bean and Kylie Mullaly will participate in the program.
More information about Seward and Obihiro’s exchange program can be found on the city’s website at cityofseward.us.
Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at firstname.lastname@example.org.