Mitsuhiro Hayashida doesn't speak much English, but when he does, he emphatically proclaims his love of Georgia.
Mitsuhiro Hayashida, 14, an exchange student from Japan, is just finishing a stay with Scott and Connie Shackelford and their son Phillip. The Shackelford's have hosted many exchange students in the past.
08/19/02 Jim Blaylock NEWS-TIMES
"I love Georgia," said the 14-year-old Japanese student, just prior to leaving America following a four-week exchange. "Yes!"
Mits, as his exchange family calls him, was placed with Scott and Connie Shackleford of Martinez during the month long exchange. The couple has participated in four summer exchanges and one yearlong exchange through the Labo organization whose goal is to place Japanese students in cultural exploration programs around the world. The Labo organization coordinates local exchanges through the Columbia County Extension Office's 4-H Program.
During the past 10 years, the Shacklefords have opened their homes to the exchange students and sought to expose the students to all areas of American culture. Mits saw the laser show at Stone Mountain, went tubing in Helen, visited the Richmond County Museum and attended a GreenJackets baseball game. He even got to ride horses and went boating along Clarks Hill Lake.
"When we had our first exchange student, we realized how much we rediscover," said Mrs. Shackleford. "We become a tourist in our own town and state."
For the Shacklefords, the exchanges have been two-fold: their 20-year-old twin daughters, Tiffany and Kristin, have participated in the exchange program and spent time in Japan.
"Both of them went to Japan for their eleventh grade summer," said Ms. Shackleford. "Tiffany has even been to Holland for Christmas."
"Their apartment at Georgia Southern is even done in Japanese," adds Mr. Shackleford. "That's how much it's affected them."
And, the Shacklefords hope to enroll son, Phillip, now 15, in an exchange to Japan next year.
"The most important thing these exchanges have done for us is made us a more global family," said Ms. Shackleford. "Sure, we live our lives in Georgia, but since we started hosting these exchange students, we've become a more global family; we've become more aware of what's going on in their part of the world. And, we've realized that it really is a small world."
And though the world of Mits' family is far away, he'll be sure to tell them about the fascinating laser show he saw at Stone Mountain, one of his favorite experiences during his first trip to America.
"We've taken every one of our exchange students there," said Mr. Shackleford. "They all love it."
But, how, other than seeing another culture in existence, has the exchange changed Mits?
"When you go back to Japan, will it be different because of coming to America?" Mrs. Shackleford tries to relate to Mits.
"Yes, I like here," replied Mits.
"But, a different Mits in Japan?" she asks. "Not the same Mits before America than after?"
Although it's clear Mits doesn't understand, it's evident that he's grown fond of the Shacklefords. And, after all, teaching about American family values is part of what the exchanges aim to do.
"I like for our students to know that American families are very close and care about each other," said Mrs. Shackleford.
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