From Salem, Oregon, to Brooklyn, New York; Noblesville, Indiana to Montgomery, Alabama … The first Kiwanis teens to “go global” came from Key Clubs across America. In all, nine students participated in the summer 2017 inaugural K Corps program—Kiwanis International’s youth exchange program for Key Clubbers.

The Key Clubbers enjoyed unforgettable cultural experiences, formed strong bonds with three Japanese Kiwanis Clubs and one Circle K International Club (all in the greater Tokyo area), contributed to an inspiring service project and expanded their concept of family in touching ways.

The trip was comprised of three days in Tokyo, a homestay with a Japanese host family and three days in Kyoto. The wide spectrum of activities included learning about the history of Japan at the Edo-Tokyo Museum, visiting historic shrines like Fushimi Inari-taisha in Kyoto and receiving a firsthand experience with Zen meditation. The meditation experience in particular was a highlight for Kacie Luo (High School for Math, Science, and Engineering Key Club in Brooklyn, New York): “Once we stepped into the temple, it was just beautiful, and I knew that I’d have a great time!”

With the majority of students having no prior experience traveling abroad, much less going to Japan, the trip was an excellent opportunity to not only bond with each other but also to develop meaningful connections with new friends and families half a world away. During their stay with their host families, participants spent time volunteering with Kiwanis Japan and local Japanese high school students in Yokohama as they collaborated on a mural art project to be displayed next year.

“It was just cool to know that I contributed to this big display of Kiwanis values,” says Paige Weisman (Egg Harbor Township Key Club in New Jersey). And while she enjoyed volunteering overseas a great deal, living with a Japanese host family was definitely the highlight: “I just had the best time ever with my host family, and I really hope that we stay connected afterward … My mom was like ‘Your Japanese family can come and visit anytime!’”

Looking back on the experience, the inaugural nine can’t recommend the program highly enough. “It’s really good experience, and I totally recommend it,” says Shelby Bursott (Robinson High School Key Club in Flat Rock, Illinois). “I was one of these people that was scared at first and didn’t know what to expect, but it’s fun—you form friendships!”

Interested in going global with K Corps this summer? Check out the full details and trip information on the K Corps website