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Far more than a tourist
Fennimore's Adam Riley visits Japan
Adam Riley
Adam Riley spent eight weeks in Japan this summer as part of a national 4-H cultural exchange delegation. He is a sophomore at Fennimore High School.

8-week 4-H Exchange to Japan slide show

Adam's journey summarized in a Youtube slide show

Fennimore’s Adam Riley was far more than a tourist when he visited Japan this summer as part of a 22-member national 4-H cultural exchange delegation. Riley, a sophomore at Fennimore High School, represented Wisconsin 4-H for eight weeks.

The cultural exchange program, coordinated through the University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension and States 4-H International Exchange Programs, brings Japanese and Korean youth to the U.S. and sends 4-H members to Japan, Argentina, Costa Rica, South Korea, Finland and Norway each year.

“You apply and then you are interviewed and you have to be accepted at both the State 4-H and the State 4-H International Exchange program level,” Riley explained. “It is not as much academic or community achievement, it is more if you are suitable to live overseas for that period of time.

“So it is not like an award trip, like some other programs, it is if they feel you are suited to be able to do well over there.”

Accompanying Riley on the journey were students from Alaska to Arizona to North Carolina, he said.

“I was super-excited and I knew that there would be a lot of preparing, which would make me feel comfortable. The program gave us plenty of orientation materials. One of them was a week in Wisconsin Dells at the State 4-H campground. Another in Seattle.

“The program really made sure that we were well-prepared and we knew what was expected of us and we would expect during our time over there.”

Riley has visited 45 of the 50 states in the U.S., but his journey to Japan was his first international experience. His mother studied abroad in London for a semester and his oldest brother studied in Spain.

“I think that is where I kind of got the feeling that I could do things like this,” he said.

Riley departed Seattle on June 11 and thanks to a 14-hour time difference, arrived in Japan on June 12. He spent the first four weeks of his visit in Shinjuku.

“I lived about an hour and a half from Tokoyo, so I took a bus and two trains there,” he said. “Our host mothers show us how to get there the first day, but after that we are on our own traveling through Tokoyo on the trains and such.

“My trains in the morning were always packed. You have no space to yourself. There are just so many people.”

From the train station Riley walked to a skyscraper, where his classroom experience was held on the 13th floor.

“Through the class it was practical Japanese,” he said. “We would go to the post office and practice our Japanese. We would go to a 100 Yen store and ask people shopping there, ‘What is this?’ in Japanese.”

Riley also enjoyed a visit to the Edo-Tokoyo museum and a tea ceremony.

“We were really able to explore parts of Japan through the class,” he said. “It wasn’t all just sit down and study. It was very practical.”

Riley’s first host family lived in a home built nine months ago that featured a Disney theme.

“The wallpaper was Disney and the little gate around the house was Disney,” he said. “They just love Disney over there.

It is normal to have Disney wallpaper. They are big into Disney. ”

Riley returned to the Olympic Memorial Youth Center following the first four weeks of his visit and from there rode a bullet train to the Hyogo Prefecture. His education continued, interestingly, in a classroom devoid of technology.

“The teachers had their own computer labs, but there was absolutely no technology,” Riley said. “It was all work books and chalk boards, which is kind of opposite of what we are trying to do here.”

Students carry identical backpacks and wear school uniforms, Riley said. Students stand before each class begins, say “Please teach us” and then bow to their teacher.

How does school lunch in Japan compare to the famous meals prepared by Jane Henkel and the staff at Fennimore High School?

“It was like cafeteria Japanese food, it was somewhat decent,” Riley said. “One thing interesting is the food goes in the classroom. They don’t have a cafeteria. Three or four students go grab the food downstairs and it comes on a food truck. Then they bring it up to the classroom and serve it in the classroom. There are no lunch ladies, you eat it in the classroom.”

Riley visited Sayo, which is home to sunflowers as tall as he is (6’1’’). He also explored the newly remodeled Himeji Castle.

Riley’s host brother for the second four weeks of his stay was a member of the Mikazuki baseball team, a junior high squad, giving Riley a chance to enjoy America’s “national pastime” abroad.

“The students only get one month off for summer vacation,” he said. “There were days I would go to baseball practice with my host brother. The practices were very long - you would bring a lunch to practice with you, I would say from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m.

“They have chants for everything. Before games they would all line up and bow to the other team and bow to the umpire. Even watching baseball on TV, you would think it was a college football game. There are noise makers and people are yelling. It is not some nice relaxing day at the ballpark.”

Riley overcame any language barrier, but no thanks to Google Translation.

“Most of the time Google Translation really didn’t work,” he said. “Most of the time there is only one word or two I would understand. Then I would use the context of it, who is saying it and what is happening around me to figure out what they said.

“Otherwise, there really wasn’t a language barrier because there are other ways to communicate than just using words. There was a lot of understanding of what we were saying without saying it.”

Riley had the opportunity to visit multiple shrines during his visit.

“You throw Yen coins into this wooden box type thing, then you ring the bell,” he said. “Then you clap twice. Then you bow.”

Riley enjoyed many aspects of Japanese cuisine, but his favorite food was Okonomiyaki.

“It is like the Japanese version of the pancake,” he explained. “It would be like our pancake, except it is not all pancake tasting, it is more like to keep it together. My favorite was seafood – so there was shrimp and things like that. There were all sorts of types – you could put cheese in it, you could put pork, you could put chicken, you could put beef.”

Riley also enjoyed a tea ceremony and participated in one firsthand.

“One of the people performing the ceremony was this boy that was probably eight years old. It was really cool to see him practicing his culture,” he said. “Through the class I took the first four weeks we were able to perform it. It is a very precise process. You take the water, then you have to swish it around in the bowl. The tea you have to carefully scoop and you have to use a wooden whisk. It is a very long process.”

In a journey of countless memorable experiences, Riley won’t soon forget his host families.

“One of the best parts were my host families. They were great,” he said. “Through this trip I was able to experience many things a normal tourist wouldn’t be able to see. The best part of the trip was the connection that I was able to form with both of those families.”

Riley will be sharing his story with area 4-H Clubs. If you are interested in learning more, please contact the Grant County UW-Extension 4-H Youth Development agent by calling (608)723-2125.

“It is like an exchange, it is not like a vacation,” Riley said. “It is more like an immersion than a big sightseeing trip. You get a deeper understanding of the culture than an actual tourist would.”