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Japanese students take in Duluth's sights

Twelve middle school-age students from Japan have spent the past week touring Duluth.

The students arrived Aug. 5 from Duluth's sister city Ohara Isumi-City, Japan, and have been busy with a variety of activities in the area until their visit ends today.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower began the Sister City program to create opportunities for "citizen-to-citizen diplomacy" in an effort to prevent the next world war, said Wendy Ruhnke, president of the Duluth Sister Cities International Board. Duluth's student exchanges with its sister cities "has been a magical experience for kids over the years," she said. The students bond during the exchanges and form friendships that they maintain in the future. She said she hopes that the exchange expands their horizons — for many, it's the first time they've been away from home in addition to experiencing a new culture.

"They go into a culture that's very different than their own, and they learn other ways to be, and they learn how similar they are, too. They learn that this culture is very, very different, but we're all human, and we all have fun, and we all can learn from each other," Ruhnke said. "All of the kids report that they're deeply impacted, and it's changed how they think about the world."

Over the past week, the Ohara students' schedule has included a welcome party at Enger Park, a Glensheen Mansion tour, a Duluth Huskies baseball game and the Great Lakes Aquarium. The students are staying with host families in Duluth and have spent two days doing activities individually with their host families.

Ruhnke said the highlight of the trip was when the students were able to have fun in Lake Superior while visiting the Park Point beach on Friday.

Duluth's other sister cities are Thunder Bay; Vaxjo, Sweden; Petrozavodsk, Russia and Rania, Iraq.