PCC FMHS INTERN
FORT MADISON – Macaroni and cheese, tennis and a little drama, highlighted the past school year at Fort Madison High School for a Japanese foreign exchange student.
As a sophomore here in the United States, Miho Shirai, spent the year learning about American culture including music, sports, theater, family, and even snackables, before having to return to her home country earlier this month.
Shirai said she wanted to come to America because her mother spent her teenage years here and she wanted to share in that experience.
“The biggest reason is my mother spent her teenage years in America, and I wanted to be like her who is always a positive and happy person,” Shirai said. “On the other hand, I was interested in living in another country without staying with my parents. Also I wanted to learn English and make friends in America.”
While in Fort Madison, Shirai stayed with Rob and Katherine Nall. The Nalls have put their own children through the Fort Madison School District and one of the children, Lia, is in the same grade as Shirai.
“We were like real sisters,” Nall said. “Sometimes we would pick on each other and I’m sure there were times when we got a little irritated with each other, but that’s just how sisters are.”
Shirai said she made a lot of friends during her time in Fort Madison. Through basketball, band, and tennis, and other school and extracurricular activities. She said she found a friend from every corner of the school and a culture she appreciated.
“I can do the things that I wanted to do. Like being part of many clubs and being free to wear whatever I want,” she said.
Shirai said the food in America was something she specifically enjoyed.
“I like Mac and Cheese, and I have never had it before I got here. Also I really like Mexican food which is not really a big thing in Japan like it is in America. I love the restaurant Pancheros,” she said.
Shirai said she wanted to get involved in many activities at the high school.
“Throughout this year, for sports, I got involved in cross country, basketball, and tennis, and for the other activities, I got involved in marching band, jazz band, show band, drama club, and DECA. I was involved in marching band and cross country right after I got here. All the friends I made in those activities were so nice, and I was helped by them a lot,” she said.
She said marching band was not common in Japan and being a part of that group and getting to wear a uniform and march with hundreds of other students was something special to her. Music and other theater arts like drama are not activities she can participate in schools back in her country.
“After drama ended, I got involved in jazz band and show band and started practices. I was playing the piano in both bands. In my school in Japan, I cannot do either of (those) activities, it was cool and I had a great time and great experiences.”
During that time she also got involved with basketball, a sport she had never played before. But she said those sports helped her stay in shape during “Gaining Season”, which is the holiday season in America.
“I got involved in basketball. It was the biggest challenge for me, because I have never played basketball before,” she said. “But playing sports during gaining season (Thanksgiving and Christmas) helped me a lot to keep myself in shape, and I got many good friends.
“At the same time, I got in DECA, and by learning about businesses, my vision about my future changed a lot. I also got great friends.”
The last sport she played before leaving for Japan was on the Bloodhound tennis team where she excelled having had training in Japan. Shirai and doubles partner Katie Larson took 8th place at the state tennis meet in May.
“Last but not least, I am involved in tennis, and I am having amazing time with my team members and coach,” she said during the season. Having team dinner with them after meets, making friends in other schools, and singing in the van are really fun. I am definitely going to miss them after I go back to Japan.”
Many times Shirai had been asked if she could stay any longer, but, like most foreign exchange students, she must return to her home country.