The Coastside Sister City Program is based on a student exchange between Half Moon Bay, CA and its “Sister City” Kariwa, Japan. Kariwa-Village is similar to Half Moon Bay in that they are both coastal towns with similar size, population and demographics. The purpose of the program is to promote cultural exchange. The program consists of an alternating mutual exchange of two or more high school students, resulting in a greater understanding and appreciation of our two nations and their cultures. One year American students travel to Japan to live with participating Japanese families for three weeks. The following year, Japanese students travel to America and live with their host families.
This program has been in existence for over 25 years and currently requires funding to continue to provide opportunities to students of all economic backgrounds. Given funding, each student going to Japan receives full air and land transportation expenses. We also use the funds to offset expenses for families hosting students in CA. Please contact us if you are interested in donating to our program. We are a 501 (c) (4) private foundation in the process of transitioning to a 501 (c) (3).
The geographic regions served by this program are the coastal areas around Half Moon Bay, San Mateo County, California, USA and Kariwa-Village, Niigata Prefecture, Japan.
The participants are High School students from 14-18 years old. Students are selected from the coastal areas without consideration of income or social status. Qualities that the students must demonstrate are independence, articulation, confidence, and self-assurance. These students are sent to Japan to represent Half Moon Bay and our country and we refer to them as ambassadors.
The Sister City Program runs on a two year cycle. The first year, HMB students travel to Japan and typically stay with more than one host family. American students may spend each week with a different host family, creating a wide breadth of experiences. Applications are available in April; interviews of applicants and subsequent selection occurs in May. The number of applications vary from year to year. Of those applicants, only two are chosen because the number of Japanese host families is limited. Travel arrangements are made in early June. The students stay with their Japanese families from about the last week in July through mid-August. The time line is determined by the Obon Summer Festival held the second week of August in Japan. The American Students are required to make a presentation to the Sister City Committee upon their return from Japan.
The following summer, Japanese students travel to HMB. The American host families are selected in HMB in June. A welcome party is held for participants upon the Japanese students’ arrival in late July. Host families are free to determine the activities of the students. Many travel to San Francisco and the Bay Area tourist sites to expose the students to as much American life as they can. At the conclusion of their stay in America, the Japanese students receive a sayonara (farewell) party.
The Half Moon Bay Sister City Program has been in existence since 1992. It has had several funding sources in the past, most recently the city of Half Moon Bay. Due to budget cuts, the Sister City Committee lost its funding. We hope to continue positively impacting the exchange of cultures through continued funding. The influence that this program has had on past participants is far reaching. The majority of students express that the experience has profoundly changed their lives forever. They come home understanding that the world is a much larger place than their little coastal town. One student came home and continued her Japanese language studies, attended law school and is currently working for an American law firm in Tokyo. Another student came home in awe that the world is so accessible and has traveled to Europe on his own since his trip to Japan. Another student has decided to immerse herself in understanding Japanese culture and has majored in Japanese at the University of California at Berkeley. Many of the students from Japan stay in touch with their host families via e-mail and Facebook. The impact of this program does not only affect the students who participate but the families that are involved with them. Having an exchange student live with a family touches the entire family – grandparents, parents and siblings. The impact of the exchange extends to families that are not directly involved in the exchange as well. In October of 1995, a large delegation of official visitors from Kariwa-Village led by their mayor spent a week in Half Moon Bay. It was during this visit that the city of HMB, through then Mayor Naomi Patridge, and Mayor Minoru Kato of Kariwa signed the Certificate of Friendship which today hangs on the wall of the HMB City Hall. The Sister City has provided a vehicle to bridge the cultural gap between Japan and America for many years and hopes to continue to do so.
The unique aspects of this organization are the immersion of students into a non-native speaking family and the exposure to a country so far away from their own. Many of our high school students traveling to Japan speak no Japanese and live with families who speak little or no English. Likewise, the students traveling to America have limited ability to communicate in English. We believe this rare opportunity to learn to communicate with another culture is invaluable. The children are also exposed to foods, sites, and rituals that they would never experience in their home country.
Every year the Half Moon Bay Sister City Program, with few exceptions, has successfully exchanged at least 2 students from the participating countries. We have had classrooms here and in Japan exchange art and are currently connecting families to participate in being pen pals.
The Sister City Program of HMB is run by a volunteer board. We have a president, vice president, secretary, and treasurer. Over the years, we have financed the program through donations from different sources: corporate sponsorship, city council funding, personal donations. This has allowed us to offer the opportunity for travel to all eligible students no matter their financial position. We had lost funding due to an economic downturn and are attempting to reestablish the funding of the program through a change in our tax status. Given new funding we will be able to continue to provide opportunities to a wide selection of students.