Exchange student Keitaro Shimomura may have left the United States Tuesday morning on a jet bound for his home in Japan, but he’s already looking forward to his first return visit to Stow.
During his 10-month stay with the Bob and Ellen Princic family, Keitaro came to love his host father’s meatloaf, his host mother’s apple caramel pecan pie – and being part of an American family.
The 18-year-old enjoyed being a junior this past academic year at , where he joined clubs and cheered on sports teams. Keitaro consistently earned a spot on the honor roll, despite starting the school year with limited English skills.
Ellen Princic said the family never considered hosting an exchange student, but a request from their middle child, Kevin, set off a chain of events that landed Keitaro in their Arndale Road home.
Last summer, Kevin spent six weeks living in the Shimomura family home in Nishinomiya, the second-largest city in Japan, as a Youth For Understanding exchange student. At the time, Keitaro knew he would be heading to Kentucky as a YFU exchange student, but a family had not yet been chosen for him.
“After two weeks with (the Shimomura) family, Kevin called and asked if Keitaro could come live with us. I thought he was crazy,” Ellen laughed. “I knew Stow schools weren’t planning on taking any exchange students.”
Kevin’s request set off a flurry of phone calls and emails between the Princics, YFU officials and school district administrators. There were interviews to be done, reams of paperwork to complete and background checks to be performed.
It took nearly four weeks, but the arrangements were finalized just before Kevin returned to the U.S. on July 22. Keitaro arrived in Stow Aug. 7.
Why did Kevin make such a request? “His family was so nice to take me in, I just wanted to return the favor. Plus, (six weeks) wasn’t enough time to get to know (Keitaro),” he explained.
Ellen said Keitaro’s first week with the family was challenging, communication-wise, because Kevin left for band camp the day after Keitaro’s arrival. And Kevin is the only family member who speaks Japanese (the recent high school grad took both Japanese 4 and 5 during his senior year).
Thanks to Keitaro’s easygoing nature, the family made it through that first week without problems, and the Japanese youth settled into life as an American. He said Sunday that being part of the Princic family was a great experience – one quite different from his small, quiet family in Japan.
“We’re like a three-ring circus around here,” Ellen joked. Both she and her husband work and are involved in other activities. Besides Kevin, the family includes David, 20, and Gregory, 14. All three Princic sons are involved in a variety of activities, meaning everyone is running somewhere nearly all the time.
In contrast, Keitaro has a stay-at-home mother, a father who works long hours away from home and only one brother.
Keitaro immersed himself in a variety of activities. He played chess nearly every Saturday with the Akron YMCA Chess Club, took a once-monthly chess class at the Stow-Munroe Falls Public Library, and joined the Japanese Club and Academic Challenge group at the high school.
Keitaro said he had fun visiting Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon and Hollywood, where he toured Universal Studios, during a YFU trip for exchange students in December.
He toured New York City during the Memorial Day weekend with a high school group, visiting the Empire State Building, taking in the musical “Chicago” and seeing the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island during a boat tour.
And just one week before his departure, the Princics took a family vacation to Niagara Falls so Keitaro could see the famous landmark first-hand.
One of his last American adventures before heading home was a massive shopping trip for souvenirs, including local postcards, mugs and Buckeye candies. “I bought many clothes, Abercrombie & Fitch, so I can give T-shirts to my friends (in Japan),” Keitaro said.
Ellen said they visited the on Saturday to ship four large boxes of items gathered by Keitaro to Japan. “The postman should have thanked him for single-handedly keeping the economy alive,” she said.
Keitaro is already looking forward to next summer, after he graduates from high school in Japan. “I hope after graduating I can come back in the summer for visits,” he said.
The Princics will welcome him with open arms.