Trip a worldly experience
By Jeanne Millsap For The Herald-News August 29, 2012 1:06PM
Minooka Travel Abroad Program students wishing the world peace at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial A-Bomb Dome in Japan. The group includes CJ Moody, Mark Burjek, Ben Trouvais, Shane Chetney, Nate Zurawski, Drew Burjek, Annie Harb and Kevin Wilson. | photo
Updated: October 1, 2012 5:03PM
MINOOKA — Students in the Minooka Travel Abroad Program knew Japan before they traveled there this summer. They had spent 18 months after school learning about the country’s culture, language, history, religions, foods and more.
But actually being there and immersing themselves in it was something entirely different.
“It was amazing,” Nate Zurawski said. “I’m really into a lot of world cultures and history. It’s very different in every way from our culture.”
The eighth-graders made their educational trip in June. Previously, Minooka TAP trips were confined to Europe — with Ireland, Germany, Spain, Portugal and Italy among the destinations.
Language and history were different to them in Europe, but in Japan, pretty much everything was new. They couldn’t even read the signs on businesses or menus.
“Japanese culture is very unique,” TAP organizer and Minooka Junior High literature teacher Mike Curtis said. “It was complete immersion.”
The group even experienced a Japanese earthquake that had Curtis rattled a bit but didn’t seem to affect the locals. The tragic 2011 earthquake that triggered a 30-foot tsunami was fresh on the Americans’ minds. Several students even pulled out of the trip after the quake occurred.
“It was 5:35 a.m. in Tokyo,” Curtis said. “I was still lying in bed … I thought I was just still nauseous from lack of sleep.”
His roommate, a Minooka science teacher, said, “Mike, that was an earthquake.”
“I looked out the window,” Curtis said, “and everything looked normal … It was nothing to them.”
About a dozen of the students said they felt it.
The group’s tours included Shinto, Buddhist and Zen temples; Japanese Bunraku theater; Sumo wrestling; traditional ryokan dining; castles; and even a Japanese baseball game.
“I loved the trip,” said Drew Burjek, “the whole trip. One of my favorite things was the baseball game. I play baseball, and I follow baseball, and this was at one of the biggest stadiums in the world. In the United States, we have the seventh-inning stretch. In Japan, they release a bunch of balloons in the seventh inning. And people stay until the very end and watch the fireworks.”
When Curtis first suggested Japan to his colleagues, they had concerns about the food.
“What are these 14-year-olds going to eat when they’re there?” were the sentiments. Curtis told the students the food was going to be different, and they didn’t have to eat everything that was put in front of them, but they did have to try it. And they did.
“The food was awesome,” said Mark Burjek, Drew’s brother. “I was scared about it at first because I’m a picky eater. My favorite was a big pancake with a lot of vegetables in it and a barbecue sauce on top of it. It had cabbage inside.”
Mark said he even ate the fish-on-a-stick, although he left the head and tail on the stick.
“It was a wonderful trip,” Curtis said. “The people were so special. They had such pride in their country, and they were so excited to show it to you. They were eager to help you understand what they do and how they do it.”