MOSES LAKE — It was a night for goodbyes.
After nearly three weeks together — 10 days in Japan and 10 days here — Moses Lake teenagers Karson Voss, Ana McCabe and Kate Tran said goodbye to their Japanese counterparts Shutaro Taida, Yu Sato and Miku Goto at the traditional “Sayonara Dinner” held in Moses Lake last Thursday.
It’s all part of the Moses Lake-Yonezawa exchange program that has been exchanging students between the two cities for 38 years now.
After an outdoor barbecue complete with tacos and frequently interrupted by the roar of U.S. Navy and Air Force planes training at the Grant County International Airport, each of the six students spoke briefly, and then together performed a dance routine to the Village People’s song “YMCA.”
Each noted how the brief but intense exchange had changed their lives.
“This experience has changed how I view other cultures and other people from around the world,” said Moses Lake High School student Karson Voss. “It was amazing to be immersed and to see Japanese culture from the inside.”
While in Japan, Voss said he stayed with Taida and his family in Yonezwa, and in return, Taida stayed with Voss’ family here in Moses Lake.
“Being able to stay with Shu and his family and see how they live day to day is a journey that I will never forget,” Voss said.
Voss added that having Taido stay with his family in Moses Lake not only gave him the chance to “show him everything Moses Lake has to offer” but also gave him, Voss, a better understanding and appreciation of life here in Moses Lake.
Taidio said he was nervous about having to spend so much time communicating in English, but echoed Voss in saying the two quickly became “like brothers and best friends” during the 20 days they spent together.
“My host family gave me a lot of good experience,” Taido said. “They took me to Leavenworth and let me shoot a gun.”
“It was a good experience!” he added.
“I am very sad that I have to say goodbye to everyone I met,” Taido said. “I want to come back to Moses Lake someday.”
Voss said he hoped the exchange program — which is approaching its 40th anniversary — will continue to provide other Moses Lake and Yonezawa teenagers a similar immersive experience in another culture.
“This is a beautiful program and I hope it continues providing the memories it has provided me,” Voss said. “I hope many more students can come.”
Program Director Kristyn Moore, who herself was an exchange student in 2002, said the exchange program needs a lot of volunteers and support to keep going.
“We are looking for volunteers for all different things, ranging from helping shuttle students to picking up donations,” Moore said. “We also look for business owners who are looking to give kids different experiences.”
This year, Moore said, students learned how to make coffee at Mason’s in downtown Moses Lake, got to see the buffalo at Rep. Tom Dent’s ranch and got to ride on a rodeo bull.
“Anything to help enrich their experience and get a grasp of what American life is,” she said.
Moses Lake Mayor Karen Liebrecht, who visited Yonezawa in 2018, said the experience of Japanese visitors in Moses Lake signing their country’s national anthem during a farewell banquet made her want to visit Japan.
“They sang with such respect and reverence that I wanted to meet the country that produced people like that,” she said. “I was so impressed with how they honor their country and flag.”
“I hope your experience here will stay with you the rest of your lives,” Liebrecht then told the exchange students. “And that you will continue to build the bridges that are so important between Japan and Moses Lake.”
“And I thank you for gifting us with your presence,” she added.