NEWCOMB - Laura Tokarz, a junior at Newcomb Central School (NCS), traveled to Japan over a recent break and spent three weeks living with a Japanese family while immersing herself in a new culture and attending a local school.
As part of NCS's Youth for Understanding (YFU) program, Tokarz was the first student to travel to another country. YFU is a non-profit educational organization, which offers opportunities for young people around the world to spend time with a host family in another culture with the help of scholarship monies.
"Laura grew tremendously from her experiences," said NCS Superintendent Skip Hults. "We have seen changes in maturity and confidence - both for the better."
Tokarz went through a crash course in Japanese with Shiori Takagi, an international student from Japan who has been attending NCS this year. After six weeks of intensive language learning, she was off to Japan.
"Even with Shiori's help it was so hard to communicate," said Tokarz. "School was especially difficult."
Despite the language barrier, however, she found that education in Japan is similar to the education she receives in America. They take all the same classes, she said.
Not everything was similar for Tokarz, however. She noticed some of the cultural differences right away.
"They don't hug," she said. "It was weird for me to see friends never hug each other."
Tokarz is hopeful about any opportunity to return to Japan in the near future.
"I would definitely go back," she said. "It was an amazing experience to get to understand another culture."
Tokarz will make a presentation to the Newcomb School Board in the coming weeks about her travels. She brought her school uniform, yen, and magazines among other souvenirs from Japan to show off.
She is eager to encourage other Newcomb students to take advantage of YFU. There is an upcoming opportunity for one student to spend a summer in Finland.
"I would recommend it to anyone," she said. "Being there is so much better than text book examples."
NCS Superintendent, Skip Hults noted that he is pleased that the YFU program is now a "two-way street" as Newcomb plans to send more students abroad.
"My hope is that through people like Laura, we generate a long-term interest in the program," said Hults.