Students in Iwata Exchange Program showcase American culture at assembly

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MVHS students in the Iwata Exchange Program hosted a Cultural Assembly tonight at 7 p.m. in the theater. This year, the program has provided 25 students with the opportunity to live with host families in Iwata, Japan from April 6 to April 16. The assembly, which included a dance performance, jazz quartet, fashion show, and American Stereotype trivia game, will be presented again at Iwata Minami High School upon the students’ arrival in Japan.

William Blair, assistant principal and Iwata Exchange Program coordinator, said the program’s purpose is to “support cultural exchange, broaden perspectives and understanding, reduce egocentrism, and create interdependence.”

MVHS student delegates were selected to participate through an interview process last May. The program alternates each year between hosting Iwata students at MVHS and staying with Iwata students in Japan.

Students attend classes in Japan in a previous school trip

Students attend classes in Japan in a previous school trip. Photo courtesy of William Blair.

Junior Bahar Maghbouleh said that the Cultural Assembly is a way to share an accurate depiction of American culture.

“American culture is so hard to define,” Maghbouleh said. “ Showing the differences and similarities with Japanese culture and showing them what we value is a fun way to interconnect with people around the world.”

Maghbouleh worked to develop the “American Stereotype” trivia game; the audience evaluated the validity of common stereotypes by viewing and commenting on clips from “High School Musical” and “Honey Boo Boo”.

Sophomore Eren George led a dance performance, including two dance pieces choreographed by Dance Spectrum and the “Hoedown Throwdown” from Hannah Montana.

“All of the delegation is involved in our final dance,” George said. “A lot of the other delegates don’t dance much on their own, but that’s the fun part. We get to teach them and show them what it’s like to perform.”

Junior Kelly Kapp spearheaded the fashion segment of the assembly – students delegates modeled American cultural outfits from each decade after 1940. Kapp found most of the vintage clothing from her parents’ and grandparents’ closet, naming a “big and poofy prom dress” from the 1950s and a “psychedelic shirt” from the 1960s as her two favorite pieces that appeared on the runway.

In preparation for their arrival in Japan, Maghbouleh and other students made a gift for the school: a ceramic green pheasant, Japan’s national bird, and a haiku.

“A big part of Japanese culture is omiyage, the art of gift giving,” Maghbouleh said. “We are taking Japanese culture, but it has the MVHS twist because the haiku is in English and the ceramic was made in art class at MVHS. It’s to say thank you to the school for hosting us.”

During the trip to Iwata, students and staff will also explore Tokyo, Miyajima, Kyoto, and Hiroshima. Blair said the most memorable part of the trip in past years was visiting the Children’s Peace Monument, a memorial to commemorate child victims of the atomic bombing in Hiroshima.

“The power of any transformational experience with other cultures has a profound ripple effect,” Blair said. “If you leave our bubble and you connect in intimate ways beyond language, you truly understand the human experience. You see ‘them’ as us. When that happens and you come back to our community, it’s easier to see other ‘thems’ as us.”

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