All AgesView – Sister Cities

By Leia Johnson

As you may know, I had a life changing summer last year. The greatest experience was the opportunity to be a youth ambassador on the exchange to one the Modesto Sister Cities International (MSCI) sister cities. This volunteer organization began in 1983 in Modesto. Over the last 33 years , Modesto has made friendship agreements with 8 cities – Vernon , Canada; Khmelnitskiy, Ukraine; Kurume, Japan; Vijayawada, India; Aguascalientes, Mexico and as well as Laval, France. As part of these agreements, there have been cultural exchanges with professionals (teachers, doctors and public service members) and students. Each summer there is an opportunity to go on one of two exchanges with MSCI.

The first one is to Kurume, Japan for high school students. This exchange is going on its 24th year. I was selected as a youth representative to travel to Kurume. Last year they did everything to make sure we had the best experience . This was good because some of the students on the trip had never been out of the country. The only cost is airfare this can run about $1,500-$2,000. Though this may seem like a lot of money, these 10 days abroad cost less than my 4-day eighth grade trip. Once we were in Japan, the rest of the trip, besides spending money, was covered by the Japanese government as we were considered cultural guests of their country. They arranged wonderful itinerary with excursions and meals, as well as a bullet train ride and overnights in Kyoto and Nara. The best part, though, was staying with my host family . Momoka and her family went out of her way to make my trip special. I spent the whole time thinking about all the places I wanted to show her when she came to stay with me – Columbia, Yosemite, and Santa Cruz. When Momoka came to Modesto, she too was on a program, she and the group, which totals 10-15, come and get to see Modesto and Northern California and were able to take her places during the weekend. The tentative dates for this year’s program are July 21st – August 2nd in Japan and August 6-17th in Modesto. For more information call Nancy Holmes at (209) 765-9290
The second exchange available is to Laval, France, also available to high school students. This exchange is a longer trip – June 11th through July 2nd. You just need airfare and spending money. You stay with host families who will share their city and surrounding area with you. You do not need to speak French to apply, though it would be fun to learn for the exchange. It is a reciprocal exchange, so you will host the student of the family for three weeks after your return. This exchange does not have a daily itinerary, so you become immersed in French culture. If you are not able to travel to France this year there is an opportunity to bring France to you. This year there are 5 students – 3 girls and 2 boys from Laval coming to Modesto July 2nd through 23rd. The ages range from 14-17 years old. They all speak English and love to travel. They are looking for host families that can share an American experience. This would be a great opportunity to make new friends and give you a greater appreciation for your hometown. This too is a long standing exchange. In fact, my mother participated and hosted when she was a freshman in college. Years later she became a volunteer for the organization because it was such a great experience. I really recommend this program to any young excited travelers. This is the safest and cheapest trip possible for someone still in (or just getting out of) high school. For more information call John Mensinger at (209) 602-4515

If you want more information, please contact the individuals about or come to a meeting April 20th at 5:30 p.m at 1010 10th Street, Room 2008 on the Japan and France exchange. I will be there too . Also check out the website at This whole exchange is possible because of countless volunteers that give hundreds of hours to MSCI. My mom has been involved in the program for many years. I have created lifelong bonds and I plan to stay active in this program for the rest of my life.



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