Columbus, Georgia, and Kiryu, Japan, established a sister city relationship in 1977, and in 1992, the English Language Institute was established at Columbus State University to further that relationship. Each year, approximately 20-21 citizens from Kiryu would enroll in the institute's intensive language program in late-July to mid-August. These citizens, ranging in age from 15 to 60, lived on campus, studied English, and enjoyed cultural activities planned by the director of the institute. I was involved with this work for three years, first as a teacher of English in the institute in 2001, and then as director of the institute from 2001-2003. I was also teaching full time at Columbus State University during those years.
Preparing for the 2 ˝ weeks of the institute's activities took a lot of work and required coordinating involvement of many local organizations and individuals: Columbus' International Network, Columbus Kiryu Club, the Concharty Council of Girl Scouts, the mayor's office, the Muscogee County School District, local families to serve as weekend hosts, high-school and college-age mentors, and various offices of the university. I worked with local artists, restaurant owners, and businesses to organize each year's program, and was aided by the staff and managers of Kiryu International Exchange Association. My e-mail correspondence with the staff and managers of KIEA was invaluable, and I will always remember with great fondness the folks whom I met through this correspondence and those whom I met in person when KIEA arranged for me to visit Kiryu in spring of 2003.
During their stay, participants in the program spent weekday mornings in intensive English classes taught by dedicated teachers from the Muscogee County School District and Fort Benning, many of whom had been with the program since its inception. In the afternoon, students experienced the culture of Georgia and the U. S. in trips to Atlanta to the Fox Theatre, the Atlanta History Center or to Macon and the Georgia Music Hall of Fame and the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame. They took an afternoon riverboat tour of the Chattahoochee River, spent an afternoon and evening with local girl scouts, took an afternoon drive out to Pasaquan, the home of the late eccentric folk artist Eddie Owens Martin, who called himself St. EOM. They participated in cultural exchange with local organizations, one year doing a dramatic reading of a Japanese folk tale in downtown Columbus at the Playwright Café. They practiced their English and made new friends with the high school and college mentors in the program, a group of young folks from the surrounding area who volunteered their services to the English Language Institute. And they spent one weekend with host families who were assigned one to two students. These people opened their homes to their Japanese guests with great enthusiasm and friendship.
I thoroughly enjoyed directing the English Language Institute, meeting the wonderful participants from Kiryu, and working with great teachers, mentors, and business leaders. Some of the folks from Kiryu continue to keep in touch with me, and I treasure their friendships.