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Elma couple promotes Elma-Japan bonds111512

ELMA — This month’s featured Vidette subscribers are a well-traveled couple. Kelly and Mika Katzer of Elma even help others, especially young people, to see new places, as well.

Kelly Katzer and Mika Nagasaki met and married as students at Central Washington University in Ellensburg. They’ve been husband and wife for 22 years.

A 1985 Elma High School graduate who had an associate in arts degree from Centralia College, Kelly Katzer earned a bachelor of science degree in business administration-international business and a bachelor of arts degree in history from Central Washington University in 1992.

More recently, Katzer, 46, has been working toward a master’s degree in teaching, with special education and English language learners endorsements, through City University of Seattle in Tacoma. He’ll soon finish his studies with a paper … on education, of course.

Katzer has also been a substitute teacher at Elma Middle School and hopes to find permanent employment in special education, as well as an English language learners program.

A native of Nakasatsunai, Japan, Mrs. Katzer, 47, attended a Booneville, Miss., high school as an exchange student in her senior year in 1984.

“In Japan, English is required from seventh grade and up,” she said. “And I really liked English in high school.” When she pondered how best to get a job in which English would be involved, she asked her English teacher for advice. He recommended the International Homestay exchange program, she said.

When she took her teacher’s advice, her parents “were pretty good about it,” Mrs. Katzer said. Returning to Japan from Mississippi 10 months later, she graduated from Sanjo High School at Obihiro in 1985.

Two years later, she earned a degree in English from Fuji Women’s Junior College at Sopporo, Japan, then a bachelor of arts degree in sociology from Central Washington University in 1992. In 2004, she earned a master’s degree in teaching (English and Japanese) from The Evergreen State College in Olympia.

Mrs. Katzer is in her eighth year of teaching English and Japanese at Oakville middle and high schools and is also the literacy coach there.

For more than five years, the Katzers lived in Japan, where he taught English at Obihiro and Nakasatsunai. Family emergencies brought them back to the United States, but not before they became involved in the creation of an exchange program — at the initiation of Mayor Odanaka of Nakasatsunai, who brought the idea to Mrs. Katzer.

Exchange programs and sister cities were especially popular then, but that’s changed some, her husband said, likely in part, at least, because of the tough economic times.

The Elma-Nakasatsunai program, now in its 19th year, offers eighth graders the opportunity to enlarge their horizens. And to make new friends and experience a host of other possibilities. Even Mayor Odanaka’s granddaughter participated in the program in 2011, Mrs. Katzer said.

A unique aspect of the exchange program, through which Japanese eighth graders spend time in the homes of Elma students, is that the same Elma students then spend time in the homes of the same Nakasatsunai students.

There are usually fewer Elma students involved than Japanese, though, likely because of the cost, Kelly Katzer said. To date, about 112 Elma students have traveled to Japan under the program, and 147 Japanese students have visited Elma, he said.

In Japan, schools through the ninth grade are supported by municipalities instead of the state, the couple said, with the result that students there don’t need to raise as much money to participate in the program as those in Elma, who are responsible for raising the entire amount. This year is estimated to cost about $2,700, plus money and gifts for the host families in Japan, Kelly Katzer said.

The cost for Elma families to host a student from Japan is about $400, he said. “But this depends on the size of the host family and what activities the group and families decide to do while hosting the students from Nakasatsunai.”

Family matters

Besides coordinating the exchange program, the busy couple also have three children. Their older son, Kango, 21, lives and works in Lacey. Monica, 18, attends the University of Washington, where she plans to major in Japanese and engineering. Konan, 16, is an Elma High School sophomore and plays soccer.

They have also participated in Elma-Nakasatsunai. They “pretty much grew up with it,” their dad said. It was also important for their children to know their extended family, he said. Monica even went to her mother’s high school alma mater.

And thanks to the program, Mrs. Katzer said, she gets to go back home every summer.

Tentative dates for this year’s program have been chosen: The Nakasatsunai students are planning to visit Elma from March 16 to 28 before the beginning of their new school year, and Elma students are planning to visit Nakasatsunai after their current school year, from June 24 to July 8.

But time to apply for the current program is short. For more information, see Elma Nakasatsunai on Facebook or call the Katzers at 482-5487.