Wednesday, July 8, 2015

By Alison Cassity, The Daily Iowan

Soon, high-school students from Iowa might be able to trade places with those in Japan.

Kim Heidemann, the executive director of Iowa Sister States, is in Yamanashi, Japan, to discuss the possibility of a high-school student exchange program beginning in the spring of 2016. 

Iowa Sister States is a nonprofit organization that promotes programs between Iowa and various “sister states” to foster positive international relationships.

These sister states include Yamanashi, Kosovo, and Hebei, China, among many others, and programs range from economic trade to education.

“These relationships help give students and professors new opportunities to meet people from another culture and exchange ideas,” said Kassi Wheeler, the international-program manager for Iowa Sister States.

Russell Ganim, the UI director of Division of World Languages, said the school would house students from Yamanashi with families in Cedar Rapids or Iowa City.

The proposed exchange program is still in discussion, he said, with Iowa waiting on an official agreement from Yamanashi before any real planning can begin.

Wheeler said Iowa’s partnership with Yamanashi began 50 years ago when a typhoon destroyed a large portion of the Yamanashi Prefecture.

“An Iowa sergeant, Richard Thomas, heard about the disaster and reacted strongly to the news, because he had vacationed in Yamanashi while he was stationed in Japan,” she said. “He coordinated a hog lift and donated 35 breeding hogs and 100,000 bushels of corn to send to Yamanashi to help them recover.”

Since then, the friendship between the two states has endured, with each offering aid to the other in hard times, she said. In 1993, Yamanashi helped send $300,000 to Iowa to help flood-relief efforts.

Chuck Safris, the head of the Yamanashi Committee with Iowa Sister States, said the program aims to build upon these friendships and foster positive social and economic relationships between the two states.

“While [Iowa Sister States] supports and undertakes many specific projects that have economic or educational goals, the underlying expectation of all of our programs is that participants will be active citizen-diplomats,” he said.