WALLA WALLA - As a small group of exchange students from Walla Walla's sister city, Sasayama, Japan, prepare to immerse themselves in the local American culture this week, their Walla Walla counterparts are already preparing for their trip next fall.
Fifteen students from Sasayama were expected to arrive at Walla Walla Regional Airport on Saturday night for a two-week exchange program.
This fall, 17 local students will make a similar trip to Sasayama, but not before getting a crash course in survival Japanese.
"Probably ‘where's the bathroom' is the most important thing to say, and probably things like direction wise and how to get places if you get lost," future exchange student Sabrina Keenan, 14, said.
Earlier this month, the 17 Walla Walla exchange students had their first survival Japanese course taught by Dustin Palmer, who went to Sasayama as a student in 2003.
"I had my speech all prepped for when I was going to meet my host family ... I initially met the person and I got tongue tied, and nothing came out except ‘I need some sleep,'" Palmer said.
In addition to teaching basic Japanese - along with the strong possibility of forgetting most of it the first chance they have to use it - Palmer said he also prepares the youths for the cultural do's and don'ts, like how to properly thank a host for a meal or not finishing everything on your plate, unless you want some more Umeboshi.
The pickled plum dish, Palmer said, was the only food he had trouble stomaching.
"There was really nothing else (objectionable). But they were different things. But I didn't like the Umeboshi," he said.
When it came to eating everything served him, Palmer said he got served octopus, squid and other foods a high schooler's palate wouldn't normally appreciate. Though he did know that in Japan you don't finish everything on your plate unless you want more, Palmer said.
"The last-bite mentality, if you can finish it with the last bite then don't," Palmer said.
When it comes to learning Japanese, Palmer knows his students will have only a smattering of the language when they head over next fall: a few key phrases and how to count to 10.
"It went pretty well because he gave us tips on how to remember the words, like words in English that sound like what you are supposed to say," Keenan said, noting that Palmer taught her to remember that "ichi" or one sounds a lot like "itchy."
As for the 15 Sasayama students who are currently struggling to communicate with their host families, when they are not at home they will be on tour with chaperones who can translate.
On Monday, the Sasayama students will visit City Hall, meet the mayor and city manager and tour the city.
Over the next two weeks, the students will visit Walla Walla High School, Garrison Middle School and Edison Elementary School, where they will learn about the American education system and interact with local students.
The students will also visit Whitman Mission National Historic Site, Fort Walla Walla Museum and the Tamstslikt Cultural Institute.
Since the two-week exchange program began in 1994, more than 500 students have participated in the program.
Walla Walla and Sasayama have been sister cities since 1972.