The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

December 11, 2012

Immersed in Japanese: Enid High student accepted to exchange program

By Robert Barron, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — When Sarah Swanner got the opportunity to participate in an exchange program to Japan, she knew she would need to raise a lot of money.

So, she began painting and practicing her violin.

Swanner, an Enid High School student, was accepted into American Field Service Exchange program for people who want to be exchange students. Volunteers from the organization find students and have services in many countries around the world.

She will attend school, live with a host family and be totally immersed in the Japanese language and culture.

Swanner will leave March 15, and return in February 2014, provided she can raise the rest of the funding she needs. She still needs about $13,200 for tuition, her flight ticket, school uniforms and spending money between $300 and $600 per month, as well as gifts for her host family, who may or may not speak English.

She has $9,800 remaining to pay her tuition, which is due March 1. The entire trip will cost about $20,000.

Instead of holding fundraisers and asking for funds from friends and family, Swanner plays her violin and paints portraits she sells to raise money. She has played her violin at churches, accompanying other musicians and at parties. As an artist, she has sold many of her paintings at silent auction and has a Facebook page, Japan Trip Fundraiser, where she is offering her works. She also has had a show in the Jane Champlin Art Gallery at Enid Symphony Center. The theme of her portraits mostly is Asian women.

“I feel most comfortable raising money doing what I like to do,” Swanner said. “I’m not comfortable asking people for money. It’s helped me meet more people and get better on my violin.

“It’s pretty cool getting the chance to have a show at the Jane Champlin gallery. I don’t know any other 16-year-old who has done that.”

She became interested in comic art in the fifth grade, and a teacher gave her a book on comic and manga art, which she enjoys. Since then, she has begun to study the Japanese and Asian culture and language, and someday hopes to make her living translating language, teaching internationally or possibly working in an embassy.

Swanner has been studying Japanese for six years. She is comfortable writing and speaking the basic language, but not reading a newspaper or reading a textbook. When she began studying about Japan, she searched the Internet for the Japanese alphabet and discovered Japanese has no alphabet, but a syllabary, a set of written symbols that represent syllables that make up words.

“The Japanese culture focuses on respect for others and for elders, to the point of changing the syntax of the language depending on who you are talking to,” Swanner said.

While in Japan, she will live on a budget with an international credit card that will limit what she spends. The host family is only required to house and feed her. She will take her own clothes and  will know shortly before she leaves where she will live and with whom.

High school students in Japan clean the school every day after classes conclude. They get on the floor and scrub them, clean the walls, classrooms and bathrooms. Swanner thinks Americans could learn from the Japanese. The object of the exchange is to learn about other cultures, so misunderstandings are avoided.

“If you’re not comfortable with something, learn more about it and you will know how to overcome that,” she said.

AFSUSA features programs for a year, a semester and a summer. For adults, the organization offers programs that will allow people to volunteer to work with people in a country, and do social work. It deals with many countries around the world, she said.