Youth ambassador program a year-long effort

On paper, a recent trip to Japan by a delegation of local students was only 10 days.

Kentlake High School student Trinity Smith practices her calligraphy during a cultural-exchange trip this month to Japan.

Kentlake High School student Trinity Smith practices her calligraphy during a cultural-exchange trip this month to Japan.

Students, families participate

On paper, a recent trip to Japan by a delegation of local students was only 10 days.

In reality, it was the culmination of a year’s worth of effort.

The youth-ambassador program for the Kent-Auburn-Tamba Sister Cities Committee requires students as well as their families to become vested in an intensive international-relations project.

The result of that level of commitment, say organizers, is a connection with another culture that goes far beyond being a tourist in another country.

It’s about getting acquainted with a country, one person at a time.

“Once someone goes over there and makes that personal connection, it just takes it to a whole new level,” said Duanna Richards, Auburn’s sister cities liaison. “Now it’s more than just a country - it’s a real-life experience.”

The youth-ambassador program is open to students entering the ninth or 10th grade in the Kent and Auburn school districts. And according to Kim Isom, youth-ambassador coordinator for both Auburn and Kent, students chosen to be ambassadors should expect to function in that role from the moment they pass muster with the ambassador-selection committee.

“It’s a minimum 12-month commitment,” she said. “They’re an ambassador from the moment they’re elected.”

So what does that mean?

For the student, it means being willing to learn about Japanese culture (most who go through the program are already taking Japanese courses through their schools), as well as committing to do a research project focusing on an aspect of the culture or the country. Students also must be willing to function as “ambassadors” in their schools (talking to fellow students and to teachers about the program), as well as speaking to service groups about their experiences.

For the students and their families, the commitment also includes covering half the cost of the air fare (by the raising money themselves or paying for it out of pocket) and participating in the program’s annual fundraising auction, which takes place in May.

And there is also the excitement of hosting a Japanese student, as part of the exchange between the countries.

But while they’re expending the effort, Isom noted students are getting something back.

That includes the opportunity to build up hours of community service - which is a high-school graduation requirement - as well as the knowledge they are doing something that goes well beyond the parameters of a typical high-school experience.

“They’re representing their family, their high school, their school district, the city in which they live, the state of Washington and the United States of America,” Isom said. “That’s a pretty significant role.”

In Auburn, the ambassador program functions with the city of Tamba (which is actually a Japanese “super city” comprised of six smaller cities, of which Kasuga has a sister-city relationship with Auburn.)

In Kent, the ambassador program also involves sister cities in Norway and China, in addition to Japan. Kent has a formal sister-city relationship with Kaibara, one of the six cities making up the super city of Tamba.

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