Capital High School Student Spends 4-Months Studying in Japan on Special Scholarship

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Capital High School senior Genoa Loertscher has studied the Japanese language since he was a freshman. “Instead of just taking the suggested two years of foreign language and then choosing an elective, I decided to take a Japanese credit course over the summer and continue my studies through Junior year,” he shares. Those years of study came in handy when he was chosen as one of just two American high school students to receive a full-ride scholarship for a four-month study abroad program in Okinawa, Japan.

It was his brother, Pyrenees, who got Genoa into Japanese – he had taken it himself and told Genoa how much fun it was. “Not only did we learn Japanese language but we also studied culture, watched videos and played games from Japan,” Genoa shares. “My Japanese teacher, Mrs. Katzer, was the biggest reason for my passion and excitement to go further. Her welcoming attitude and friendliness made class so much more enjoyable and made me want to go to Japan to meet more people like her.”

AFS International Scholarship

Genoa originally tried to get into a year-long study abroad program his junior year through AFS International but was unable to get all the resources together in time. Genoa was also concerned about having to take his senior year over once he came back to America.

However, due to his dedication and obvious passion, the organization reached out to him about the Asia Kakehashi Scholarship program, which grants full-ride scholarships to high school students around the world from the Japanese government as peace ambassadors.

Genoa’s trip started with a 2-day orientation in New York City and then a week of leadership training in Toyko with 60 other high school students from around the world who were also recipients of the Asia Kakehashi Scholarship.

From there, Genoa headed to Okinawa where he stayed with this host family for 4-months, attending a Japanese school via a one-hour bus ride every morning. They spoke only Japanese at the school. He participated in handball after school, catching a bus back to this homestay family around 9 p.m.

Genoa Loertscher with his handball team in Okinawa, Japan. Photo courtesy: Genoa Loertscher

Studying Abroad as a High School Student

It’s not a surprise that, as a teenager, making friends was Genoa’s biggest worry about heading to a new country. “I knew that Japan is a more reserved and shy culture and that made me think that it would be difficult to build those bridges,” he shares. “However, I quickly learned that everyone I was surrounded by was very kind, considerate and friendly. While at first people were a little shy, as soon as I started talking to them they would immediately light up.”

“The best part about my trip were the people that I met and the connections I made,” he continues when asked what he loved the most. “Everyone was amazing and I loved every moment of my trip. Leaving my school, my host family, and Japan was a very difficult thing and those friendships that made I will always treasure.”

Genoa Loertscher with some of the friends he made during a study-abroad program in Japan. Photo courtesy: Genoa Loertscher

Genoa loved his time there so much so, that he plans on returning for college. “I am looking into a scholarship that would allow me to spend all four years of university life in Japan and that is my goal,” he says. “As far as my major goes, I’m not too sure what I’d like to do however, I do like video editing and I’d like to teach English in Japan for a time, so I will keep those in mind for the future.” If he can, Genoa hopes to remain in Japan permanently after college, or at least for a very long time he says. “I love it so much there and I would do anything to go back,” he adds.

For those wondering if now is the right time for their own kids, Jess Caldwell, Genoa’s mother, says, Do it. “The best time to consider a study abroad program would be junior year of high school. At that age some students have the drive and maturity to create this incredible type of experience for themselves and then do any high school catchup that is needed in the summer of their return through their Senior year,” she advises. She adds that it was Genoa’s Japanese teacher who recommended the program to them.

Capital High School senior Genoa Loertscher with his host family in Okinawa, Japan. Photo courtesy: Genoa Loertscher

Genoa says that while the paperwork can be overwhelming, it’s worth it. He said to be sure to turn in applications on time and to apply even if you don’t think you are qualified. “Remember to keep in mind, there is absolutely nothing to lose by going for it,” he says.

Jess adds to make sure you choose a reliable study abroad organization. “We reached out to AFS International as they are one of the best!” she says. “The communication, safety and vetting of host families helped create more ease for all of us. Genoa was assigned a local coordinator outside of his host family whom he met with privately on a monthly basis.”

Watch the video above to learn more about Genoa’s Japan experience. To learn more about your own study abroad journey, visit the AFS International website.

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