Every year, since 2016, the city of Covington has been hosting kids from its sister city — Tatsuno, Japan.
According to Regan Bolli, the city manager of Covington, in 2015 the Hyogo Prefecture in Japan, which is part of Tatsuno, contacted Covington, saying they wanted to have a sister city in Washington.
After that, Bolli and two other city officials traveled to Tatsuno to have the signing ceremony. Bolli said Tatsuno officials paid for them to fly over there.
Since then, 10 students from Tatsuno come to Covington for a cultural exchange once a year for about three days.
Bolli said there are usually about five host families that participate in the exchange, including himself and his family.
“Each year my family and I host a kid and this year we hiked down to the bottom of Snoqualmie Falls, we usually take them to Costco and say, ‘Pick out a treat that you want,’ they kind of go crazy about that. We ask them what kind of food they’re looking forward to eating and it’s always hamburgers and hotdogs, so we get all that and do like kayaking and canoing — things they had never done before,” he said.
Each family is different though. Bolli said some families take their exchange students to tour Seattle. He said each family can choose what they want to do with their kids.
Every student who wants to come to Washington must go through an extensive interview process with elected officials in Tatsuno before they are able to go to Covington for the exchange, Bolli said.
“They have to submit an application and have an interview. It’s kind of an extensive process for them to kind of earn to come here,” he said.
Part of that process determines if the students can speak English well or not.
“Tatsuno will combined the kids based on their English language skill and usually there’s one that speaks a little better and one that’s maybe not so good. We use Google translate (too),” Bolli said.
According to Bolli, usually the students will bring somen noodles, which Tatsuno is famous for making. He said the kids will usually make his family a meal with those noodles.
So far, no one from Covington has been able to visit Tatsuno because the state’s constitution prohibits municipalities to spend money on sister city promotions and travel, according to Bolli. Whereas Tatsuno is able to fund its kids on exchanges.
“So the city can’t send kids over there, we can help them organize a trip. We’ve spoken to a couple of families, my wife and I have considered sending our two older kids over, so if there were people that were able and willing to pay to send their kids over, then we could organize an exchange in Tatsuno,”he said.
Bolli said he loves the interaction between the host families’ kids and the kids who come from Japan.