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Instead of heading straight to college after graduating from Corcoran High School in June of 2014, Kori Gutierrez made a detour. A massive detour: she decided to spend the better part of a year in Japan.

Kori is the Corcoran Rotary Club’s most recent local exchange student. The local club participates in the international exchange, both sending local high school students abroad and welcoming students from other countries to have an American experience. Kori was actually selected to participate in the program during her senior year, but opted to graduate here before taking off to Japan. She’s happy with that decision.

 

As a guest of the Rotary Club last week, she noted her nine months in Japan provided a life-changing experience. She arrived in Kochi in September—a little later than the normal schedule, due to problems with her visa. She

 

immediately jumped into the Japanese culture.

 

School had started in August, so she was quickly enrolled. The three year “high school” program was a different setting than she was accustomed to, and she entered school as the equivalent of a junior.

 

School itself was an interesting change from what she was accustomed. Kori attended a private, all girls’ school, where students were required to wear uniforms. That included special “indoor” shoes. With no janitors on staff, students were required to clean the school after class. And classes were held Monday through Saturday.

 

With the help of new friends and a tutor, Kori’s Japanese language skills blossomed. Once she knew she was headed to Japan, she began to study the language, self-taught with the aid of text books and tapes. A major challenge in learning Japanese was the fact that there are three separate texts to the language, as well as multiple dialects.

 

“Everyone was so helpful,” she explained. “All my friends and teachers were very supportive and encouraging. It made learning the language much less stressful.”

 

And as a testament that she was entirely immersed in the language and culture, Kori entered one last realm: by March of this year, she was actually dreaming in Japanese.

 

I remember that very well. It was close to my birthday,” she said.

 

While in Kochi, on the island of Shikoku, Kori learned to appreciate Japanese public transit, the celebration of festivals and sporting events, many activities with her new-found friends, and the Japanese cuisine. She found she was too busy to be homesick.

 

“I missed my family here, but I wanted to get as much from the experience as I could. I am so happy I had this opportunity,” she stated.

 

Kori will start classes at Fresno state next month. She was applying to colleges and universities while in Japan and Fresno came through with the best offer: Kori was awarded the Smitcamp Family Honors College scholarship, which covers tuition for all four years she will study at Fresno State.

 

She plans to major in business, with a minor in Japanese. And to further show that her time in Japan was well spent, Kori was tested by the Japanese professor at Fresno State and will begin her language class in Japanese II, not Japanese I as most students do.

 

While she’s happy to be back at home with mom and dad, Kathleen and Francisco, along with brother Eli, Kori is already planning a return to Kochi. A major festival takes place annually in August, and she wants to be there in 2016. Her host families are already jockeying to see where she will stay.

 

And they might need to make a little more room. Eli has been bitten by the exchange bug too, it seems, and hopes to be a future Corcoran student making a trip abroad.

 

 

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