Students from Echizen, Japan visit Montevallo

Nine students from Echizen, Japan, will travel to Montevallo to live with host families and learn about American and Southern culture this week.

Echizen, Montevallo’s sister city, has been trading students with Montevallo since 2007, but the two cities have had a relationship since the 1990s, said Montevallo City Council member Hollie Cost, president of the Sister Cities Commission.

“We want our local students to be more accepting of Japanese cultures and broaden their horizons,” Cost said.

This year, nine Japanese students of all ages will experience American culture by visiting the American Village, waterskiing and tubing on the lake and attending a “school dance” hosted by the Girl Scouts of America.

Freda Shivers has hosted two sets of Japanese students in years past and even travelled to Echizen herself when her daughter was an exchange student there.

“I’ve never encountered more gracious, generous people,” Shivers said.

Shivers will take her houseguests to church, shopping and to Peach Park in Chilton County.

“Whatever I do for my daughter, I do for them,” Shivers said.

Her most memorable moment from the last group of students she hosted took place in the grocery store. Shivers said the Japanese children were amazed at the huge variety of sodas offered in America.

“In Japan, you have maybe 10 different types of soda, but in America you have like 50,” Shivers said, adding that her guests were so amazed by the grocery store, they asked to take pictures.

“It was also funny that whenever we would fix them a meal to eat, they’d take a picture of it first,” Shivers said. “But then, when we visited Japan, we did the exact same thing.”

Before Shivers and her group went to Echizen for a visit, they took several cultural orientation classes with a Japanese native who taught them basic custom differences regarding everything from eating, to gift-giving, to using the restroom.

“They’ll bring us a gift when they get here, and we’ll send them a gift to take back home to their parents,” Shivers said.

One gift the Americans took to Japan was a musical piece composed by Jody Landers, a theory and composition professor at the University of Montevallo.

Landers presented the piece called Seven Nocturns, for clarinet and piano, to the mayor and citizens of Echizen to show friendship.

“They were so honored to hear it,” Landers said.

Cultural exchanges like these are the main reason Montevallo participates in the program, said Cost.

“We’re really more similar than we are different,” she said.

Shivers, whose daughter Xan was born in China, said she liked for Xan to be able to see and interact with people who look like her.

“The world is shrinking and any opportunity we have to introduce these kids to someone who looks different is important,” Shivers said.