The cities of Livermore and Yotsukaido, Japan, will resume their sister city cultural exchange program for youth next fall, following a hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Yotsukaido -- located about 40 miles from Tokyo in Chiba Prefecture -- is a city of similar population and socioeconomic circumstances to those of Livermore.
Founded in 1977, the exchange program aims to create lasting bonds of friendship, acceptance and education between students in the two cities, according to a statement from Livermore officials.
The sister city relationship was revamped in 2001 with the start of the middle school student exchange program. Prior to the pandemic pause, middle school students from Livermore would visit Yotsukaido for a week in October.
They stay with local families with students the same age, going to school with them, experiencing the daily lives of their host family and touring the region. In March, the Yotsukaido students come to Livermore and reunite with their friends from the fall visit, participating in school and experiencing American life.
"For 45 years, Livermore has treasured our Sister City relationship with Yotsukaido, Japan. As we come out of the recent pandemic, we welcome the renewal of our student exchange program and the enduring friendships that it has fostered," said Livermore Mayor John Marchand.
The exchange is set to return in October 2024.
The Livermore school district partners with the Livermore Yotsukaido Sister City Organization and is already working on plans to welcome the Yotsukaido students to their schools with special programs, tours and bonding activities.
"We look forward to the return of the Livermore-Yotsukaido Sister City Organization's student exchange program. It gives our students an incredible opportunity to travel abroad and immerse themselves in another culture," Livermore schools Superintendent Chris Van Schaack said.
"We also look forward to welcoming students from Yotsukaido to observe our customs and way of life in our schools and community. We are fortunate to have a longstanding, dedicated organization like LYSCO that continues to bring these opportunities to our youth," he added.
As a student ambassador, Nola McAllister shared the knowledge gained from when she was part of the student exchange.
"I was selected as a student ambassador for the Livermore Yotsukaido exchange program in 2019. I had the best experience of my life learning and immersing myself in a new culture, trying new foods, meeting new people, adhering to new customs, and learning a little bit of the language. The opportunity allowed me to further my leadership skills and grow as a human being in a world that extends beyond just one town and country," she said.
Student ambassador Claudia Bui also shared positive reflections about the trip.
"To say that this experience has made an impact on my life is an understatement," she said. "LYSCO has been described as a cultural exchange between two cities, but it has brought lifelong friendships that I have maintained since my travels to Japan. This unique opportunity to travel with other students and live with a host family has taught me many valuable insights. I highly recommend and encourage students to apply to this program so that they can have the experience of a lifetime."
Monique McAllister was an adult chaperone for a previous visit, escorting 20 students to Japan. She said the adventure reinforced her love for the LYSCO cultural exchange.
"I was one of the selected chaperones for the Livermore Yotsukaido 2019 exchange and participated in the year-long preparation ahead of departure. Being part of the LYSCO-Yotsukaido experience was not only a sister city cultural exchange, but a continuation of our enduring global connections," she said.
Students who are currently in seventh grade can apply for the program in spring 2024. The trip will take place in October 2024. City officials said there will be a forthcoming mandatory informational meeting for interested students and parents.
Due to the popularity of the program and the limited number of spaces available, there is an application and interview process. Once applicants are chosen, they will meet frequently to learn more about how the program works, customs to follow and food they can expect to try. In addition, they receive tips from past participants.
More information can be found at the LYSCO website: https://lyscoorg.wordpress.com or by following the organization on Facebook.