West Rowan hosting future farmers from Japan

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 31, 2011

By Karissa Minn
Two students from Japan are visiting West Rowan High School this week to learn about agriculture in North Carolina. Joined by their principal at Tokyo Metropolitan Engei High School, Jun’ichiro Chidani, they are part of a group of Future Farmers of Japan hosted by three North Carolina schools.
Four other students and a teacher are visiting Burns High in Cleveland County and Piedmont High in Union County.
From last Saturday to this Saturday, students are staying with host families and shadowing members of the Future Farmers of America as they attend classes and other activities.
“This is a wonderful experience for our students to learn globally and talk about the differences between our school and schools in Japan,” said West Rowan Principal Jamie Durant.
The talking is a challenge, but technology and a shared love of farming are helping break down language barriers.
West Rowan seniors Steven Wetmore and Beverly Hampton use Google’s online translator to help communicate with their respective guests, Yuta Sakuma and Saika Arayama.
Wetmore said it’s been interesting learning about the Japanese students and their school.
Hampton agreed, saying she never thought before about certain experiences that others might not share.
“(Arayama) was talking about the stars, saying she had never seen the stars like that because of pollution and lights,” Hampton said.
Speaking largely through Chidani as an interpreter, Sakuma said he traveled to North Carolina last year and it was a good experience, so he wanted to do it again.
Sakuma, who is studying horticulture, said he got to milk a cow by hand for the first time this week. The students also worked in a greenhouse and planned to visit Cauble Creek Winery and Lazy 5 Ranch later Wednesday afternoon.
Arayama said she hopes to have a career in horticulture. She applied for the international exchange program because she wants to learn English, but she said it’s hard to express herself in the new language.
When asked what they thought of high schoolers in North Carolina, Sakuma said “they’re very kind” and Arayama simply described them as “tall.”
Durant spoke with fellow principal Chidani Wednesday morning about the similarities and differences between their schools.
He said he learned the dropout rate is a concern in Japan just as it is here, though the rate at Chidani’s school is lower than Rowan’s.
He also asked about how Chidani’s school is funded (federally, with the principal controlling a portion) and evaluated (agricultural schools have different standards than others).
Chidani said his high school, which is similar to a “magnet school” here, has 420 students who all study horticulture, food science or animal science. One of the biggest things they’re learning from the FFA, he said, is how to present and speak in front of a group.
“In the 21st century, food and the environment are very important issues,” he said. “I told the FFJ students it’s important to express yourself … I told them, ‘Look at the FFA.’ ”
When asked about the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, Chidani said even Tokyo felt the massive quake that struck more than 200 miles away.
“In my office, the bookshelf fell down and was broken,” he said.
Students and parents were gathered at the school that day for a graduation ceremony, he said, and some had to stay overnight because electricity and transportation was disrupted.
Now, most things are back to normal in Tokyo, but they are still having to conserve electricity and supplies.
“They are needed at the area of the disaster,” Chidani said.
The principal added he is not worried about nuclear radiation in Tokyo because there are no plants affected by the disaster there.
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.