For Narumi Naro, her high school days have been far from typical.
She has traveled from Japan to Iola as part of the International Fellowship Exchange Student Program.
Naro attending the Iola-Scandinavia High School, where she was a senior.
“I did not know how hard it would be to live without my family,” said Naro. “I have really missed my family, friends, my dog Muku and my mother’s cooking.”
“Everyone is so friendly and welcoming,” she said. “It has made things easier and made me the happiest exchange student ever.”
Naro comes from Mie Prefecture, Japan. She lives in the capital city of Tsu with her mother Naoko, father Hideki and brother Kasuke.
Mie Prefecture is located in the Kansai Region on the island of Honshu. Located in the center of Japan, it is the corridor between eastern and western Japan and has a population of 282,980 people.
Naro has been living with Joe and Maggie Jones while in Iola.
“I have very much enjoyed my stay with Joe and Maggie,” Naro said. “They make me laugh a lot and I love to hear them sing together.”
Both Joe and Maggie agree they have enjoyed having Naro as well.
“We’ve been out of contact with the high school and all the activities that go with it for many years,” said Maggie. “It’s been lots of fun to be a part of the high school scene again.”
Joe is quick to point out how much Naro’s English has improved since she has been here.
“Sometimes I will speak to her in Japanese and she always answers me in English,” he said.
“I think we have even Americanized her a little bit,” Joe said. “We have heard her say things like, ‘I have no clue,’ or ‘what the heck.’ I think she has even picked up a little bit of a Mid-Western accent.”
“It was a shock for me coming here,” said Naro. “I went to English Conversation School, but English here is much different than what we are taught.”
Naro’s bubbly personality is easily seen as she and the Jones’ share some of their memories.
Joe talks about the two of them making faces at one another, while Maggie adds how Naro always used to say she was shy.
The easily embarrassed 18 year old says, “I was not shy, I just had no confidence or courage.”
Joe and Maggie start singing a song about courage, and the three of them share a laugh.
Naro attends Tsu Nishi High School in Japan.
“My school has three grades – sophomores, juniors and seniors. Each of the classes has about 360 kids in it,” she said. “Usually you only know the kids in your class. You do not switch classrooms; only the teachers move from room to room.”
“High school is very hard and education is much more serious in Japan,” she said. “They are definitely two different styles of learning. Here we study and have fun; students are much more interactive with their education. In Japan, it’s more lecturing and taking notes. We think. If you don’t know the answer, our teachers ask you to think more. Here, students give up.”
Naro notes another difference in the two educational systems.
“Here I can raise my hand and ask a question,” she said. “If I raised my hand in Japan, they would think I was trying to draw attention to myself.”
Maggie points out how Naro found it interesting that after a debate in history class, everyone is friends again.
Reflecting for a moment on that class Naro adds, “I was afraid to state my opinion as I did not want to hurt anyone’s feelings. Here students say what they really think.”
“My teachers here were so supportive,” she said. “They have helped to draw me out and give me confidence. I have been given the opportunity to learn things about myself that I did not even know.”
“In Japan, I study for the exam to get into college,” she continued. “Here I study for my life, which seems more meaningful and fun.”
She laughs, “I never fell asleep in class here, in Japan I did.”
Naro will head back to her home on June 11. Upon her return, she will have two additional semesters to complete for high school.
“All my friends will have graduated by then,” Naro said. “I am so glad that I got to take part in graduation here with my new friends. It’s been my dream to wear a cap and gown; in Japan we don’t do that.”
“It is also my dream to throw my cap up in the air,” she said. “I cannot wait to do that!”
On May 26, Naro walked with the Iola-Scandinavia Class of 2013 to the front of the crowd and sat with her class to take part in graduation.
When her picture and name came across the screen during the slide show, those in attendance, clapped. Naro hid her face, in embarrassment.
When she walked across the stage to receive her diploma, once again the crowd applauded.
Naro, with tears running down her cheeks, bowed graciously as she accepted her diploma from School Board President Tom Opperman.
And, when the time was right, Naro fulfilled her dream and threw her cap in the air.