HUNTERSVILLE – As the world gets smaller with technological advances that connects people globally, the world of Lake Norman Charter High School students got bigger as they hosted a group of students from Nanzan-Kokusai High School in Toyota, Japan.

The seven Japanese students stayed with host families and attended classes with a school buddy for two weeks as part of a new academic exchange program at Lake Norman Charter.

LNC World Languages Department Chair and cross-cultural committee member Cynthia Kmidowski organized the program.

“It’s been my interest in bringing the opportunity to our school for several years,” she said. “We’re really excited that we finally got to this point.”

The goal is for students to learn about each other's cultures.

The Japanese students get to experience what it’s like to be part of an American family and see what academic life is like in America,  Kmidowski explained. In turn, they serve as cultural ambassadors in helping LNC students understand life and culture in Japan.

“The whole idea is to create global understanding and global partnerships because that’s their life, that’s their future,” Kmidowski said. “It’s a global economy, job market, and (a chance) for them to begin to understand people from other countries and have sense of who we are as a country.”

It also prompted students to be introspective, she added.

LNC senior Kourtney Oliver-Mays said she noticed how impolite she and her peers could be in comparison to Japanese students.

“We definitely have less respect for authority,” she said.

“They’re very quiet and very polite. I talk back to my mom. They don’t really talk back to their parents. So, it’s cool to see that because it makes you more aware. It’s like, ‘oh, maybe I am rude.’”

Japanese student Erina Kato commented on how American students were able to speak their opinions freely in class, where as students in Japan are more quiet.

Her colleague Sakura Asai was hosted by Oliver-Mays and said the best part of the two-week trip was connecting with the American students and learning about cultural differences – everything from class schedules to driving ages to the way sushi is presented.

“It’s not all decorative or all colorful,” Asai said of Japanese sushi. “We look for good taste instead of good looking, maybe.”

Even though differences were readily noticeable, there were a lot of similarities that students bonded over, LNC sophomore Chrisse Fryling said. Some included shopping, movies and pop music icon Taylor Swift.

Being able to interact with American families and students for an extended period allows students to learn about another culture in a more authentic way than through a text book or the news, said Rie Umekawa, Nanzan-Kokusai English teacher.

She said she hopes her students’ stay in American will spark and interest for LNC students to visit their school in the summer.

Students agreed that the program was more than just a learning experience. It created international friendships.