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MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — Clarissa Furber’s initial reaction was “No.”

Daughter Mariah, a sixth-grader at Cummings Elementary School, wanted to spend four nights away from home, in a foreign city more than seven hours away by ferry, with her classmates on a school field trip.

But then Furber got to thinking: Her husband was retiring and the family likely would never return to Japan.

“It’s going to be hard, but I have to think about her experience and not about myself,” she said.

In keeping with what’s almost become a rite of passage for Cummings’ sixth-graders, 28 pupils — including Mariah — headed to Sapporo, Japan, on Tuesday.

Though the jaunt includes a visit to the city’s famous snow festival, it’s no ordinary field trip: For the 16th year, Cummings kids will be matched with a Japanese host family or college student during their stay.

The reduced funding at Department of Defense Dependents Schools in the Pacific this year for field or study trips didn’t impact the excursion — but it almost did.

The $140 each student pays covers part of the ferry transportation for a school bus, while DODDS Pacific picks up the remainder, as well as fuel, tolls and bus driver per diem, said Jim Moody, an educational technologist at Cummings who helps organize the trip.

The bus funding had been scaled back, but DODDS Pacific Japan district superintendent’s office reconsidered after Moody and Cummings principal John Williams wrote a letter noting the increased safety, convenience and cost-effectiveness of having a school bus in Sapporo, Moody said, noting the student fee also pays for museum entrances, a 500-yen phone card and activities.

The students are excited about being away from home, many for the first time.

Brianna Dobbertin, 11, signed up “because I thought it’d be a great experience for American kids bonding with a different culture,” she said.

Moody hopes, above all, the students gain an appreciation for other cultures and “a feeling of being a world citizen, more than just Americans in America,” he said.

The students won’t ever be on their own, since they’ll either be with their host or with one of eight adults who will accompany the group.

Some pupils, such as Lauren Day and Destiny Cutlip, will stay together with a host student.

“This comes once in a lifetime,” Cutlip said.

Day said she hasn’t ventured past Morioka — about two hours by car from Misawa — while her family’s been in Japan.

She doesn’t like seafood, which brought up an important piece of advice the students will be discussing on the ferry Tuesday, Moody said.

“A lot of our kids do leave a lot on their plate,” Moody said. “We’re going to talk about that: ‘Be willing to try new things, but don’t take things you’re absolutely not going to eat.’ ”

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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