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Japanese foreign exchange student returns to Seneca after 30 years
sato-chambers for web
Senaca's Bob Chambers greets Mihoko Sato at the high school Monday morning and remembers the days she attended as a foreign exchange student.

It was a homecoming for one of Seneca High School’s more unusual alumni on Monday, when Japanese foreign exchange student Mihoko Sato returned some 30 years after attending the school.

With Mihoko, were her two junior high-aged children, Saeka, her daughter, and Yoshiyasu, her son. Neither child can speak English, but both seemed mildly amused by learning of their mother’s days as an exchange student at the rural school.

The Satos now live in Tokyo, a city of 36 million people. The kids laughed when they saw their mother’s picture in the school yearbook in her Seneca cheerleader’s uniform.

Mihoko stayed on the Bill and Gladys Peterson family farm when she was an exchange student during the 1981-82 school year. Evy (Peterson) Nerbonne, who lives in Hudson, Wis., and her sister Ruth Peterson brought Miho to the farm on Monday. Another sister Shirley (Peterson) Morgan, who lives near the Twin Cities, picked up Miho and her children at the airport.

Miho still refers to Gladys Peterson as “mother” or “mom,” when she talks about her. For years, Gladys sent Christmas and birthday cards to Miho, who sent cards in return.

Then, Miho sent Christmas cards for two years and got nothing back. Carol Ganz the former Carol Peterson, with whom Miho attended Seneca High School and lived with in 1981-82, wrote to tell her that Gladys had passed away. Carol currently lives in Indianapolis.

Miho recalled being so surprised that “mom” had died.

As her two children amused themselves looking at the old photos of their mother and talking with each other Monday morning in the classroom of Mona Jones, Miho met some of the faculty members who taught her 30 years ago. Of course, Jones remembered Miho. Soon, Pat and Sandy Connors stopped by to see Miho. Both were young teachers at Seneca, when Miho was an exchange student. Pat teaches social studies and Sandy is an English teacher.

Bob Chambers, the school’s band director when Miho attended Seneca, also stopped by to say hello. Chambers was substitute teaching on Monday. In the hallways of the school, Miho met teacher Rod Lysne and others who had taught at the school when she was a student.

Miho returned to Japan and eventually married a Buddhist priest. She, her husband Tatsuyu Sato and their three children live on the grounds of a Buddhist temple in Tokyo. Miho helps with upkeep of the temple grounds.

Miho returned to the U.S. once in 1994 just before getting married.

Ironically, while Miho and her two younger children were in Seneca on Monday, her oldest daughter was in Menasha visiting as an exchange student.

Aside from her many memories of attending Seneca High School, Miho had fond memories of living with the Petersons on the farm. Growing up in the historic Japanese city of Kyoto, Miho had lived in a rather small house. She recalled her surprise at seeing the size of the Peterson’s farmhouse.

Miho also recalled with a smile the pigs and cows on the farm. The open spaces of the rural Crawford County farm were entirely different than the cities of Japan where she had grown up.

Leroy and John Peterson, Carol’s older brothers, still live on the home farms near Lynxville. Neither brother was living at home, when Miho stayed with the family as an exchange student.

When Miho attended Seneca High School, she was friends with Janice Kuring. Janice had spent the previous year as an exchange student living in Japan. Janice’s son also became an exchange student to Japan and wound up living with Miho and her family in Tokyo after things didn’t work out with other host families.

The experience helped Miho appreciate the challenges of hosting an exchange student and dealing with the language barriers. She said it helped her understand what the Petersons faced in hosting her 30 years ago.