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Sister city visit lands teaching job

The fifth trip was the charm for Kaitlyn Halom. The Superior woman flew to Ami-Machi Japan Sunday to spend the next year teaching English overseas. "I've been waiting to do this ever since I started college," said Halom, 24. When she got an e-mai...

Japan
Kaitlyn Halom of Superior sits surrounded by items she picked up on her four trips to Japan - a doll made from a lotus flower, a fan with an original poem on it, her friend's wedding photo, pottery from the Ami-Machi area and a trinket for safe driving. The network of friends she has built will be there for her as she spends the next year teaching English in Ami-Machi, Japan. For Halom, 24, it is a dream come true. (Maria Lockwood)

The fifth trip was the charm for Kaitlyn Halom. The Superior woman flew to Ami-Machi Japan Sunday to spend the next year teaching English overseas.

"I've been waiting to do this ever since I started college," said Halom, 24. When she got an e-mail about the job opening she didn't hesitate to say "yes," even though she had less than four weeks to get ready for it. With an international driver's permit in hand and a visa in the works, she began training this week.

"Going to Japan as an assistant language teacher is a once in a lifetime opportunity and it will be a tremendous opportunity for Kaitlyn to grow," said her mother, Julie. "I am glad that she is able to live her dream."

Halom remembers taking exploratory language classes in German, French and Spanish during seventh grade.

"I just knew I wanted to go abroad and travel," she said. "I have always been very interested in other cultures."

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When they saw an ad in the paper for students interested in going to Japan through Superior's Sister City program, Halom jumped at the chance. She was 14.

"It was interesting but it was so different," she said. "Just the way they did things, the buildings, the scenery, everything; it was unique and interesting to me just because it was nothing like I'd ever experienced before."

The Superior teen saw the peace memorial in Hiroshima, visited temples in Kyoto and danced at the Ami-Machi Festival as part of the sister city delegation. She found the Japanese to be a very honorable people - polite, friendly and willing to go out of their way to help. She saw the formal business side of Japanese culture riding the trains. She learned about their family life from spending time with her host family.

"They're very friendly; they joke a lot," she said. "But you don't really see that from an outside perspective. You have to go in and kind of be a part of it."

That trip opened a cultural door for Halom. She took Japanese classes at the University of Wisconsin-Superior and has returned to Japan three times to visit - twice on her own and once more with the Sister City delegation. The Halom family has joined in, opening their home to youth delegates from Ami-Machi for the last 10 years.

"They each bring something unique with them," said Julie Halom. "Many of the Japanese students are shy and nervous when they come here." If they hesitate to use their English, she said, her husband communicates with them through gestures, pointing, pictures and simple words.

The student who left the biggest impression on the Superior family was Yoshiko Tateno. She spent a semester living with the Haloms during Kaitlyn's junior year. The girls shared a bedroom, studied together and visited Disney World during a family vacation.

"Yoshiko was a daughter to us and we have stayed in contact with her," Julie Halom said. "This past August Kaitlyn attended her wedding in Ami."

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The third time Halom went to Ami-Machi, she traveled with her mother and brother Kyle as part of the 2008 Sister City delegation. It was Kyle's second trip and their mother's first.

"It's fun to share a common interest," Halom said, and to "know that you helped your family get involved in something like this."

During a ceremony in Ami, the adult delegates were each given a frog statue. The word frog is also the word for "to return."

"The were hoping for us to return," Halom said. It worked. First she visited for the wedding in 2009. Now, she will spend a year teaching in Japan.

Yoshiko sent the e-mail about four weeks ago asking her Superior sister if she wanted a job in Ami teaching English. Halom, who graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire in 2009 with a French major and minors in Japanese and global studies, was ready. She was already going through a year-long process to teach in Japan through a government organization.

"I've been pretty driven," Halom said. But this job offer was a better fit.

"It's more comforting to be going through the Ami area because if I have questions or concerns I know people I can turn to," she said. "There's that network that's watching out for me."

Half a world away, her mother will help Japanese youth find their own network of American friends this summer. A youth delegation from Ami-Machi arrives toward the end of July and the Sister City Commission is looking for host families. The five-day visits go quickly, said Rani Gill, Sister City Commission coordinator.

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"You learn so much of their culture and they also enjoy cooking for their host families, so they get to enjoy some home made Japanese foods," she said. "Every family that has hosted has always had a great experience. American teenagers get so attached, that there are always tears at the end of the visit."

It has made a lasting impact on one Superior family.

"Hosting is a wonderful way to experience another culture and get to know these students as people," Julie Halom said. "It has opened our eyes and our hearts to the world and to be accepting of differences."

Anyone interested in hosting a Japanese student this summer or being part of the 2011 delegation to Japan can get more information by contacting Julie Halom at (715) 392-4384, e-mail jhalom@yahoo.com , contacting Gill at (715) 395-7212, e-mail, e-mail ranig@ci.superior.wi.us or look it up on the city of Superior Web site at www.ci.superior.wi.us .

Related Topics: SUPERIOR
Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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