St. Johnsbury Academy has welcomed a group of 30 competitively selected students from the Kaijo Gakuen boys' school in Tokyo since 1989. The boys stay with host families and follow host students through their daily school schedules during the 10-day trip. They also visit tourist attractions in the Northeast Kingdom and Boston. Several traditions have developed over the course of the 25-year program: the boys participate in a Welcome and Farewell Chapel each year and perform musically and dramatically for host families and faculty members at a Farewell Banquet.
The trip to St. Johnsbury Academy from Tokyo is a much-anticipated annual event for the students at the Kaijo Gakuen school. Thirty students are selected from the 80 that apply based on an essay and an interview. Final selections are by lottery.
Once the Kaijo boys arrive in Vermont, they meet the host families with whom they stay for the duration of their trip. Each year, they spend the first weekend with them, taking part in activities ranging from shopping to skiing. This year, as a group, they also visited Goodrich's Maple Farm, hosted a Japanese cultural fair, and went bowling. As their bus exited Brantview Drive recently, their host families serenaded them with a cheer of "Bonsai" and wished them well on their way to Boston, where they spent two days of exploring the city's history and its universities.
The Kaijo program also functions as an exchange between St. Johnsbury Academy and the Kaijo Gakuen School. Academy students have visited the school there annually since 1994. Japanese teacher Joseph Mesics, said, "It is an amazing opportunity for our local students to travel to Asia and experience life in Japan. The group of fewer than 10 students not only attends classes in Japanese high schools, but they are also immersed in Japanese family life with host families for a short time during their visit. Some students return to Japan on summer scholarships or after graduating from St. Johnsbury Academy and a good number continue their Japanese language studies at the next level."
Thomas Lovett, St. Johnsbury Academy headmaster, said, "This program would not be possible without the trust that the families from Kaijo place in us and, most of all, without the genuine care and generosity shown by our host families for these boys. Think about it -- 30 families volunteering to welcome strangers into their homes for a week without any compensation -- and developing such strong bonds in a week that some actually shed a few tears at parting. It's really an amazing tribute to the families in our community."
The Kaijo boys' trip to St. Johnsbury is an exceptional experience for both the boys and for the students who host and befriend them. When the group heads back to Japan after visiting the Academy, the boys are in school for only a short time before students from the Academy arrive at Kaijo Gakuen. They are always warmly welcomed by their friends from Kaijo whom they met in Vermont only weeks before.