I was lucky to have early exposure to other cultures. In 4th grade, my parents took me out of school for 4 months so we could go on a road trip through Baja California, Mexico (Don't worry, my mom did a great job homeschooling me during that time). I had taken a few months of a community education Spanish class, and ended up being the translator for my parents quite often. Very strange to be poorly translating for an 18-year old soldier at a border checkpoint holding a M-16 (although I hear that nowadays the military gives them unloaded rifles as they don't have money to spare on ammunition, but you still don't want to play the risk). I saw many awesome things; waterfalls in the middle of the desert, amazing snorkeling, fishing and sea harvesting (there was one beach where you swam out for 3 minutes, then kicked upright with your flippers for a few seconds which blows away the silt, exposing possibly a hundred clams which are apparently the largest West Coast bivalve, and definitely one of the tastiest), touching whales, seeing a dilapidated Mexican zoo, not to mention the awesomeness of all the food available. I've been down there several more times, the last of which was in college with my friend Brendan, and I turned him into a Baja addict by exposing him to windsurfing and kiteboarding, along with the laid-back lifestyle of a beach bum.
Last week, all of the English teachers in Tsuruta and I taught a crash course for Tsuruta's middle school students who are going to Hood River on Friday. I thought it went very well, their average English level is far better than last year ("Sorry!" to my friend in the BoE whose daughter went last year), and they aren't afraid to ask questions about English, or goof around despite their low level (I got into a discussion with one student about siblings, and he mentioned he had a sister the same age as me, I asked another student next to me if he thought the sister was cute, he said "oh yes very cute", I shot back with "Cute? Not if she looks anything like you" and all of them got it, bursting into laughter). As always, a week of 2 hours extra work every day is a little stressful, but definitely fun. I wish I could say I had all the names matched to the faces, but with 18 students and only 10 hours of class time total it's a little tough. As I read their host family information, I see how Hood River might be a similarly eye-opening experience for them. One student is staying with a Mexican-American family, one at a Mormon family who has 6 kids, one host sister who has a million hobbies (cooking, rock climbing, reading etc.), and one whose parents own a coffee roasting and distribution company (he will never be able to drink the coffee in Japan after his week in HR!).
I am completely certain these kids will have a positive, life-enriching experience in my hometown, they even get to visit Meadows (Maybe the #1 reason I wish I could go back home with them.. Just kidding Mom, I love you!) I really do wish I could head back with the kids though, it would be nice to have someone who could really be a good tour guide in both English and Japanese. This year the school is sending the Music teacher, who can understand spoken English but isn't that great at communications. Also, the Vice Mayor is going, and he speaks next to none. I will probably end up printing pictures this year (last year the English teacher who accompanied them asked me to print off over 400 pictures, I ran out of ink in the printer and photo paper countless times in 2 days), so I'll be able to see what they thought was interesting enough to capture.
I'd love to travel again and visit somewhere else, but I'm not sure where I want to go.