When I was in my late teens I had the good fortune to live and travel for a few months throughout Japan. That first international trip took me from my relatively simple life here in Newport Beach and opened my eyes and mind in a way I can’t imagine without the experience.
I will never forget the lessons I learned participating in the everyday lives of my hosts. Simply standing at a major Tokyo intersection or making my way alone through the subway system with literally thousands of Japanese waiting patiently to move from one point to another was humbling, exciting and helped me to become more mature.
All I really knew about Japan before then was associated with the local sushi bar my parents frequented, and the imported items in my life stamped “Made in Japan.” Any preconceptions I may have had about the country and its people were completely replaced and expanded during my time there.
I learned about the kindness that pervades the Japanese culture. I can point to many examples, but the memory that always rises was the day I found myself lost. It was raining and I was anxious and tired, and it must have showed for a sympathetic Japanese lady who spoke very limited English asked me where I was trying to go.
Luckily, I had the address written in Japanese on a soggy piece of paper and she sweetly nodded indicating she knew the place. To my surprise, she began to walk with me, pointing the direction and speaking sweetly in her broken English trying to calm and comfort me. She walked for what seemed like 10 blocks with me, delivering me safely to my destination. I was so relieved and grateful for her benevolence, we hugged and she gave me a fresh orange.
I will never forget her and the many thoughtful and interesting people I met during my travels there.
I also came home even more thankful to live in the United States. Though I loved my adventures in Japan, I became homesick after a few months and wanted to kiss the ground when I landed in Honolulu. My mom and grandma came from California to meet me for vacation on the way home and I hugged them tighter than ever before.
The travel lessons continued. I realized how much I missed my family during my time away and despite my efforts to establish independence prior to leaving for that trip, I was never so happy to see them upon my return and garnered a new respect for their significance in my young life.
What is my point you may be asking by now. Well, did you know that Newport Beach has three sister cities? They are Ensenada, B.C., Mexico; Okazaki, Japan; and Antibes, France. The mission of the local sister city organization is to create and strengthen partnerships between the City of Newport Beach and its sister cities.
One of the most robust programs of the Newport Beach Sister City Association is its student exchange program, which gives students an opportunity to visit these countries and enrich their lives through learning first-hand their language, history and culture.
It also gives the students an opportunity to act as an ambassador to the country they visit and to represent their school, the City of Newport Beach and the Sister City Association in an exemplary manner. What a great way for a young person to have an experience that will literally change their lives, similarly to the experience I had in Japan.
In July, a delegation from Newport Beach including Mayor Keith Curry and his wife, Pam, former Mayor Don Webb and his wife, Jan, and Newport Beach Sister City president Cherri Penne-Myers visited Antibes in celebration of Bastille Day and couldn’t say enough about the warm welcome they experienced during their trip.
Returning the hospitality, the Newport Beach Sister City Association recently celebrated the 20th anniversary of our relationship with Antibes, welcoming a delegation who visited Newport the week of Sept. 13. During their activity-packed visit, the group had an opportunity to visit the new OASIS Senior Center and witness the release of three harbor seals by the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach.
The Antibes delegation was also recognized at the Sept. 14 City Council meeting, where they received an official proclamation from Mayor Curry commending the continued efforts of the association in promoting “peace through people.”
Recruiting of students for the exchange will begin in October. If you are interested in the student exchange program or would like more information about the NBSCA, please contact Committee Chair Connie Skibba via email at [email protected] or visit www.newportbeachsistercity.org.
Residing in Newport Beach, Lynn Selich is a weekly columnist and society editor for the Newport Beach Independent, and Associate Publisher of Newport Beach magazine. She can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Facebook at Lynn Selich-Columnist or http://twitter.com/LynnSelich.