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In front of local, state, and national Japanese media earlier this month, Lower Columbia College President Chris Bailey and Wako International High School principal Sugiko Yamada signed an agreement to directly connect Wako graduates with LCC programs.

The signing ceremony was part of a trip to Japan several members of Lower Columbia College took in early November, as part of an ongoing cultural connections program between LCC and the city of Wako, Japan.

Bailey said the college already has agreements with two colleges, CTITC in China and Atomi in Japan, for students to have three-week stays with host families. For the past year, LCC has been working on this agreement with Wako International High school, which will add a direct path for graduating seniors to enroll at LCC as full-time international students.

“Wako International High School has about 10 students every year who express interest in studying abroad, but the school had no mechanism for that, so they were on their own,” Bailey said. “Now they have a pathway.”

LCC will help guide Wako students though the sometimes-confusing application process, Bailey said, and after two years at LCC, the college will help the students transfer to a four-year university of their choice.

When college representatives held an information session at the high school after the signing, Bailey said over 45 students showed up, along with 15 parents. One student has already contacted LCC about how to start the application process, and Wako graduates could arrive on campus as early as next fall, Bailey said.

Those students will join the college’s rapidly growing international cohort. The international program at LCC began in 2012, Bailey said, and grew from two students who found LCC on their own to 33 full-time students that LCC has guided through the process.

Bailey said when he first started at the college in 2011 he saw the need for an official program, and saw Asia as a logical place to reach out to.

“I wanted to make sure students have a global perspective,” Bailey said. “With the ports and business here they need to be culturally aware, and I saw a natural connection (to Asia).”

Not only is the Longview area closely tied to Asia because of its ports, but there is a long history of cultural connection with Japan as well, Bailey said.

Wako is Longview’s sister city, an agreement established between the cities in 1999 to promote cross-cultural connections. Bailey said LCC chose to work with Wako partially because of the agreement.

“It’s really the relationships we’ve established (in Japan) that are paying off,” Bailey said.

In fact, Wako Mayor Takehiro Matsumoto had previously been to Longview on a sister city delegation, and Bailey said he had been impressed by LCC’s campus.

“The mayor was very supportive, and very adamant six years ago that he really wanted his students to have U.S. education to bring back to the community,” Bailey said.

LCC has become a popular school in Japan, International Programs Director Marie Boisvert said. The short term programs fill up rapidly, and students form lasting bonds from the “life-changing” experience.

Boisvert said the short term stays can usually accommodate between 12 and 15 students from Atomi, and this past year there were about 19 applications in the first half hour of the application opening. LCC is currently seeking more host families for this February, due to all the interest.

Host families have traveled to Japan to meet their students’ families, she said, and one past exchange student brought her new husband to visit Longview, as the trip had been so important for her.

Bailey said the additional agreement for full-time students will only make LCC’s international program stronger, which benefits staff and students in both countries.

“You’re going to send your children to the U.S. for an education, but in turn these students are going to educate us, too,” Bailey said.

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