Sunday was the one year anniversary of the horrible tragedy in Japan. My thoughts were with the Japanese people throughout the day and, as usual, I thought about Hiro. He was our accidental exchange student about 30 years ago. He came to America to learn about our country, our customs and what American family life was like. He ended up teaching us all much more that we could have ever taught him.
30 years ago I was fairly new to California and Orange County. Fresh off the turnip truck from Indiana, I was the first salesman on the west coast for a company that wanted to open up a new territory for its musical instruments. My job was to open up a dealer base and also contact professional bands to play our products. I traveled a lot and money was tight.
The accident started with a phone call. A lady asked if this was the Moore residence. I said, “No, you must have the wrong number.” She then asked if this was such and such a number. I said, “Yes, that’s my number.” She said, “Well are you the family that was interested in a Japanese exchange student.” I said, “Yes, that’s us.”
I don’t know why I said that. I just said it. I hung up the phone and told my wife that a person was coming over to our house the next night and interview us about becoming an exchange student family. She thought I was crazy.
The next night a nice young lady from the Y.E.S. (youth exchange study program) called on us. The program is different now and mostly exchanges Muslim students but in the early 80s, they came from many different countries. She told us about 40 students from Japan would be coming over for the next school year at the end of the summer and we could look at pictures and resumes and pick the student we would like to share our life with for the next year.
By this time, my wife and son were on board with the idea and Troy thought it might be cool to have another young guy in the house so we started going through the pictures and reading about each student.
We found the perfect match. Our choice was a young boy who played guitar, spoke pretty good English and would be a senior, which we thought would be a good match for Troy who was starting Newport Beach High School as a freshman. Our Japanese student was to arrive at our home about the third week of August. We had four months to prepare.
Some tough financial times happened over the summer. I can’t recall all the things, but I think our rent was raised and a car broke down and the normal “life’s happenings” that cause stress in all households at one time or another. About the 1st of August we got cold feet. We didn’t think we could afford another mouth to feed or put on an act that we were the perfect American family. I promised my wife I would call the Y.E.S. lady in the morning and back out of the exchange program.
That night we went to dinner at our favorite Mexican restaurant. I was about one bite into my burrito, when the exchange student lady walked into the restaurant followed by 30 to 40 Japanese kids. The first person the lady spotted in the restaurant was me. I believe I was choking when she hurriedly slid into our booth.
She said, “I can’t believe how lucky this is to see you two. I was going to call you later tonight. I have some bad news about the exchange student you picked out. It turns out he would have turned 18 while in American and we aren’t allowed to have that happen, so he was actually turned down for the program just two days before boarding the airplane.”
My wife and I breathed a sigh of relief, and said, “Oh, how awful, we were looking forward to having him, but that’s perfectly alright. Maybe next year we can do it.”
“Oh, no, don’t worry,” she said, “we have another student for you and he’s here with me tonight. He doesn’t play guitar, or speak one word of English but he is a wonderful young lad. I’m going to bring him to your table right now so you can meet him.”
Tomorrow I’ll introduce you to Hiro.