Boston Patillo, son of Richard and Amy Patillo, had a unique opportunity to spend his summer in Japan with the University of Missouri Extension 4-H Japan Outbound Summer Exchange program.

Ever since hosting Tomoki Kurihara from Saga Japan in 2016, Patillo had been looking forward to visiting Japan himself. During Tomoki’s homestay in Aurora, he and Patillo spent the summer traveling on a family vacation to Colorado, visiting the Patillo family’s hunting cabin, kayaking and swimming in the river. Patillo was interested in Japan because he learned a lot from Tomoki about Japan and his culture, and was excited to visit him at his house in Saga, Japan. Since 2016, the families have become great friends; sending packages and letters back and forth several times a year and keeping in touch on Facebook.

Patillo couldn’t wait to go see Tomoki when he turned 14 years old and was old enough to participate in the University of Missouri Extension and States 4-H summer exchange to Japan. He only wanted to go to Tomoki’s for a four-week homestay, and his mom encouraged him to also attend the four-week Nihongo Language Institute in Tokyo -- prior to his trip to Tomoki’s -- to help him learn Japanese and better communicate with his host family.

Patillo said the summer exchange was the best experience of his life.

“I was nervous about the language school and it ended up being the most exciting part of the trip," he said. "My first host family, Satoshi and Yuki Matsuzaki, and their son Haruto were so kind and excited to take me sightseeing in Tokyo. They took me to sushi restaurants, Tokyo Tower, and did so many fun things with me that helped me learn about their family and their culture.

"I became a member of their family and especially enjoyed spending time with Haruto who is four years old and attends kindergarten. Spending time with Haruto made my trip very special. Haruto and his family had two cats and those cats could open all the doors in their house using the lever doorknobs. There were many times I rode bikes with Satoshi to take Haruto to school and pick him up. My trip would not have been the same without the love and kindness of the Matsuzaki family. I was fortunate to spend my first four weeks in their home; they did so many things with me that made my trip perfect," said Patillo.

The Nihongo Language Institute was an outstanding opportunity for Patillo and helped him learn Japanese so that he could talk with his host family and made his trip much better. The language program taught him conversational Japanese and gave him many opportunities to interact in Tokyo and try out many of the customs. While in Tokyo, his class did a photo scavenger hunt in Asakusa, toured and had some free time in Akihabara, and took a calligraphy class in Shinjuku. In the evenings after school, this student's host parents would allow him to go to popular prefectures with friends.

"I am so happy that I went for the first four weeks to the Nihongo program, I didn’t know that I would enjoy it as much as I did and that it would be the time of my life," said Patillo. In Nihongo, he went on many sightseeing adventures, got lost in Tokyo many times, and made memories that he will never forget. There were 16 students in the Nihongo program with him, and he made many lifelong friendships.

Patillo's trip was planned around getting to spend the summer with Tomoki and his family. He said when he returns to Japan, he will go to Saga again to see Tomoki and all of his friends. At Tomoki’s house, he attended high school with him and went to a full day of school at Tomoki’s sisters’ elementary school.

School in Japan is much different than it is here in the United States, Patillo reported -- they eat lunch in their classroom, the kids spend time each day cleaning their school, and they are very thankful for their teachers, the cooks, and each other.

Tomoki and Patillo spent time throwing darts at the BanBan Arcade, hanging out with his friends, watching television and sightseeing. Tomoki’s grandfather took him on a trip to Hiroshima on the bullet train, to the golf driving range and had many outings that made his trip even better.

An experience that Boston really enjoyed was the week he spent at Labo Camp in YUTSUBO with Tomoki and his sisters. Labo Camp is a traditional-style Japanese camp that teaches about Japanese culture. At Labo Camp, youth enjoyed outdoor hikes, indoor games, performances and a bit of sightseeing. YUTSBO is at the foot of Mt. Kuju, a live, mostly dormant volcano. There was a typhoon during Patillo's trip, so they didn’t get to spend much time outside and didn’t get to hike to the top of the volcano. From the camp he could see the steam of the hot springs at the volcano.

Patillo would like to thank everyone that helped to make his exchange a success; he is grateful to the Matsuzaki and Kurihara families for hosting him in their homes and all their efforts that made his trip to Japan, the best summer of his life. He is making plans to return to Japan to visit his friends and host families.

According to Patillo, when he was planning his trip, he was worried about being away from home, on the other side of the world, with little contact with his family. He says his experiences in Japan have changed his life. Everyone in Japan was so nice to him and the most important thing he learned was how nice people are and how nice his families were to him.

More than anything, he enjoyed being a part of and respecting his family’s daily schedule. Since being in Japan, he feels much more independent, and has a different kind of confidence in himself, and he have learned to do things when he has the opportunity, not worrying about it so much. Patillo knows that being in Japan and experiencing a different culture, a new language and a different way of life has changed his life forever. And he can’t wait to go back.