A tea ceremony in Akita with local students participating. (Photos courtesy of Yasuko Lehtinen)

A tea ceremony in Akita with local students participating. (Photos courtesy of Yasuko Lehtinen)

Students return from Akita Sister City Youth conference

Following the amazing performance of the Kanto Performers from the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s Sister City of Akita, Japan during this summer’s Progress Days, Yasuko Lehtinen traveled to Japan with five local students to participate in the Akita Sister Cities International Youth Conference.

“I traveled to Akita City, Japan, the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s Sister City, with five of my Japanese students from Kenai Peninsula College from July 29 through Aug. 9,” said Lehtinen in an interview. “This is the first time Akita City and I have worked on this type of project with high school and college-aged students with such a large impact. Akita City, Japan has relations with six other cities worldwide and this was a great opportunity to reach out and gather several different cultures that had young students who were energetic, and excited for the future. I wanted to offer something new and fresh for our youth instead of a basic exchange program opportunity. I have been involved in this particular Akita City exchange program for 25 years officially, but 28 years of work. This way the young students would be able to have fun, learn about Japan, its culture, its food, and meet other young students from all around the world.”

“It blew my mind,” said Polar Beard, one of the students. “Japan is an amazing country and I can’t say enough good things about this trip. Most of the students were relatively concerned about climate change but it is a controversial subject. Some good ideas such as improving public transportation came out of the conference. For Alaska, installing wind generation along our coast.”

“Wanting to keep the exchange program exciting and new, I spoke with Akita City officials every week on ideas and creative ways that we could get our youth excited about traveling to Japan. Once I found out there were six Sister City programs that worked with Akita City, we agreed on gathering the youth for a large conference. Each country involved needed to choose five outstanding students from their city to invite to attend the International Youth Conference. The students ranged from 16 to 20 years of age. The countries and areas involved were Russia, Germany, China, Alaska, St. Cloud, Minnesota, Ibaraki, Japan, and of course, Akita City, Japan,” explained Lehtinen.

“It was the greatest experience of my life,” exclaimed Marcos Reyes. “I loved it! From the Kanto Festival to some of the nicest people I have ever met it was an amazing experience.”

Hope Breff also traveled to Akita with the group and said, “As we got together we learned more about each other, how we are alike and how we are different and about the different environments we live in. Some of us are much better off than others when it comes to environmental changes and other countries have more difficult conditions. But I believe we can work together internationally toward peaceful changes to benefit us all.”

“Thanks to Mayor Hozumi of Akita City, Japan, the conference started out with a presentation of Akita City by the youth of Akita City, a tea ceremony activity and tour of the newly built City Hall. Other activities and special places we were able to visit were the Akita City Kanto Festival, Akita International Festa, a trip to the samurai town of Kakunodante and Lake Tawaza. We learned a new Soran Bushi Dance at a workshop and experienced Japanese archery. Overall, we had a fantastic trip to Akita City and a great experience with this new adventure at the International Youth Conference.”

Also attending the conference from the local area were Juliette Weaver and Sabrina Hilbrink.

Yasuko Lehtinen, Sister City team leader, international students get ready for the Kanto Festival in Akita. (Photos courtesy of Yasuko Lehtinen)

Yasuko Lehtinen, Sister City team leader, international students get ready for the Kanto Festival in Akita. (Photos courtesy of Yasuko Lehtinen)

Students from around the world, including the Kenai Peninsula, attend a climate conference in Akita, Japan. (Photos courtesy of Yasuko Lehtinen)

Students from around the world, including the Kenai Peninsula, attend a climate conference in Akita, Japan. (Photos courtesy of Yasuko Lehtinen)

Kenai and international youth at the Kanto Festival in Akita, Japan. (Photos courtesy of Yasuko Lehtinen)

Kenai and international youth at the Kanto Festival in Akita, Japan. (Photos courtesy of Yasuko Lehtinen)

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