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Tennessee Wesleyan hosts 19 Japanese students for two-week culture program

Late this past summer, Tennessee Wesleyan University hosted 19 high school students from Athens’ sister city, Isahaya, Japan. The newly launched partnership, the Chinzei Gakuin TWU Language and Culture Program, is directed by Dr. Betty Ruleman, TWU English Professor and Coordinator of the Study Abroad program.

The Japanese students were hosted on the TWU campus for 12 days, with trips throughout East Tennessee to compliment the English language program.

“In essence, our plan was to light a spark of interest in many things,” said Ruleman, “the beautiful natural surroundings, the historical places like Sequoyah Birthplace and Fort Loudoun, the tourist attractions like Rock City, bluegrass music, the art of quilting, and the great taste of Southern food.”

The students visited Benton Falls, were introduced to the Tennessee Vols with a trip to Neyland Stadium, and were hosted at the homes of TWU President, Dr. Harley Knowles, and Athens City Manager, Seth Sumner.

Dr. Ruleman, with help from TWU students Ersa Henry, Abby Williams, and Ethel Ding, among others, set out with the goal not just to create a nice tourist experience for the students, but to connect them with the history and culture of East Tennessee, to bring about a partnership and friendship with the Japanese students.

This friendship blossomed over a trip to the International Friendship Bell in Oak Ridge’s Peace Park. “We shared a moment of satisfaction,” added Ruleman, “as we met, not as citizens of the nations responsible for Pearl Harbor of the bombing of Nagasaki, but as true friends.”

The students’ excitement about East Tennessee and Tennessee Wesleyan was apparent.

“I love America! I love Tennessee. Tennessee has a beautiful nature and kind people. I want to stay here! I want to live here.” -Ayane

“I really enjoyed seeing, talking, learning and eating. Actually, I love Tennessee so I want to go to TWU.” -Ann

“I don’t want to go back to Japan, honestly. I want to stay here forever. Before I came here, I had a bit of anxiety because I had never left Asia. However, the people here were all very friendly and kind. I thought my hometown was the best, but I came here and changed my mind. Thank you for the precious two weeks. I hope to see y’all again.” -Karin

Special thanks go to the many people who worked to make this a successful program. Denso, City Manager C. Seth Sumner, TWU President Dr. Knowles, Athens Regional Park, several local churches, members of the local Japanese community, and more.

“This program is more than special,” concluded Williams who assisted the TWU team. “It is an unforgettable opportunity that reveals students’ potential, strengths, determination, and options for the future, and it is a treasured memory for all who were involved.”

Click to see more photos of the Japanese students’ trip to East Tennessee.