SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


Kanayama: Staying with the Group
By Tony Hatano-Worrell


May 27, 2008
Tuesday PM

I'm glad to hear from Mr. Tom Ferry. First of all, you are right about the student in question. The student is indeed smart, loves reading, bright colors, and (I'm told) the dramatic arts. These are only some of the reasons this student was originally chosen to be an exchange member.

And you have important concerns: Is there prejudice, unfairness, and undue secrecy in Ketchikan's Exchange Program?

Imagine you are responsible for taking a group of junior high school students to Japan for three weeks, and back. Everyone is informed in writing of what is expected of them, and in preparation, you hold regular classes for several months.

Now make up an imaginary student: Male or female, any race, any level of popularity. (For the sake of your questions, I'll refer to her as "she.") She is not a bad person; she is a good kid. In March, students from Japan arrive, and you and the Ketchikan students take part in several activities with them.

During their visit, the student in question decides she'd rather not always have to be with the other students nor join all the activities, dropping out halfway through one, skipping another, and so forth. (She's not skipping school; she's just skipping the group.)

Concerned, you and some board members hold a meeting with her and her mother. The explanation given is that sometimes she would rather just be by herself instead of spending time with the others.

In Ketchikan, that may be safe, fine, and understandable, but you are concerned about the upcoming trip to Japan. You and the board discuss whether or not she should still join the group. Ultimately, you decide to give her a second chance: a chance to show her willingness to join the others and to stay committed.

Upon being given this second chance, one of her first acts is to choose to skip a group class in favor of another unrelated activity. The explanation is that she feels the other activity is more important.

More concerned, you and the board meet again. Reflecting upon similar situations in past groups, you remember other students who while in Ketchikan neither committed themselves to the group nor abided by its rules. Adults at that time thought, "Surely once they get to Japan, they won't act that way." You recall that not only did they still act that way, but in every case they actually behaved worse.

Still, for the sake of the argument, let's say you again choose to let this student travel to Japan anyway. And let's even grant that she surpasses your expectations.

She behaves well, stays with the group, and interacts with the Japanese students. But finally, she can no longer take it. International travel is fun, but it can wear down anybody. She just needs to get away by herself for a short time. While you are traveling she spots an interesting shop, or a shaded tree, or some other attractive spot. Let's say it only happens once, and even allow that she feels she has her own very good reasons for doing so.

During your travels, you are passing through Hiroshima (over a million people), Kyoto (also over a million), and two times through Nagoya (over 2 million). Many of these places do not look so big once you are in them. They appear quiet, safe, and comforting. And one day during these travels you do a head count, and she's gone.

In spite of the group's policies.

What do you do?

Do you make the group wait while you search?

Do you cancel the bus, the train, the plane?

Do you send the others ahead while you stay behind to look?

You have asked me several good questions. The one that remains is the boards' signing of papers. Whether all decisions were signed or not, I'm sure they will be from now on. But Mr. Ferry, even more important questions than these remain:

What do you do if you can't find her?

What if some dangerous person (Japanese or traveling foreigner) finds her first?

How responsible were your decisions now?

And, most critically, what do you tell her family now?

These are the sort of "secret" issues discussed at the board meetings.

Some still disagree; specifically, Ms. Kathleen Svenson. However, as stated before, the board's stay-with-the-group safety policies have been clearly laid out since the beginning. It is only natural that the safety of the students is of prime importance in considering international trips such as this. To fault the board for sticking to these policies while ignoring the responsibility of individual group members is to turn the situation on its head.

In short, there is no secret evil plotting going on, and no joy is taken in having to turn any student down. All of us involved on BOTH sides of this issue are good people who unfortunately just happen to disagree about this situation. And that's all I have to say.


Tony Hatano-Worrell
Kanayama, Gero City, Japan

About: "For the record, I am employed in the Japanese school system, and receive no monies from Ketchikan for the Exchange."

Received May 27, 2008 - Published May 27, 2008


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