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Students to say goodbye to U.S., 'konnichiwa' to Japan

NORTH TONAWANDA -- While their friends may be going to the beach and working at summer jobs, North Tonawanda High School students Gabbie Mittiga and Bryan McGowan will spend next month in Japan.

Traveling with their Japanese teacher, Jason Goulah, and 22 other students from different parts of the country, Mittiga and McGowan will get a heavy dose of Japanese culture and will try to make advances in their mastery of the Japanese language.

For Goulah, it will be his last connection to North Tonawanda High School. He will leave the school this summer to teach at the graduate level at DePaul University in Chicago.

Goulah will have taken 12 North Tonawanda students, including Mittiga and McGowan, to Japan during the past four years.

The two juniors will have a large portion of the trip paid for with scholarships from the journey's sponsoring organization, Concordia Language Villages in Minnesota.

Many of the students that went to Japan before are doing international work now, in part because they went abroad at a young age, Goulah said.

The two students will live in a Japanese home for a week and then study the Japanese language while visiting cultural sites such as Hiroshima, where they will see the Atomic Bomb Dome Museum.

"They'll go to Tokyo," Goulah said. "They'll climb on Mount Fujiyama and see the shrines and temples in Kyoto."

Both students will leave for Japan on Thursday.

"I've been interested in Japan since I was little and saw the Power Rangers and Pokemon on television," McGowan said. "So once I heard there was a Japanese class at the high school, I took it."

But those characters weren't the only things that influenced his decision to go to Japan.

"I always thought Japan had a very interesting culture, so I wanted to learn more about it," McGowan said. He has taken three years of Japanese with Goulah. He said he remembers the first Japanese word he learned was "konnichiwa," which is the Japanese equivalent of "hello" and a word he said he will use often in Japan.

Mittiga said she began taking Japanese because she thought it was something students usually do not have the opportunity to learn. "I took it for three years because it was something different," she said.

The students said the trip will make them better global citizens.

"I've put a lot of effort into my Japanese this year," Mittiga said. "I think I can understand it if they talk really, really slow. But if someone talks to me over there and they're talking too fast, I'll be saying 'slow down,' " -- in Japanese of course.

e-mail: pwestmoore@buffnews.com

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