2022 Scholarship Award Winner

The Salem-Ota Cultural Exchange is pleased to announce that Corey Aras Ide Kaulenas, a graduating senior at Salem High School has been awarded this year’s Scholarship award, presented during the Salem High School Senior Awards Night. He will be using this scholarship as he attends the University of Maine Orono this fall.

Scholarship Winner Corey Aras Kaulenas with Chris Granniss, scholarship chair of the Salem-Ota Cultural Exchange

He, and the other applicants for the award, were asked to write an essay about their involvement with the exchange; how it affected their life; and how it will influence their future.

His award-winning essay:

When my family started the exchange program, I was very young. We hosted five kids and one adult, and even though my memories of those times are very distant and faint, I can’t imagine myself without having experienced those times.

The most influence I’ve had has been through the lens into other cultures. Before my involvement in the exchange program, I didn’t really have any perception of cultures outside of my own. The exchange program changes that. While I didn’t notice the significance then, I now realize that this was my look into the larger world. Some of this came from seeing the culture they inhabit. I held their gifts of paper fans and little figures and wondered about their significance. What kind of culture would develop to value these kinds of small gifts over the small gifts I was giving? This view into other cultures was the first I had. This was also important because by that point I was consuming media made in Japan, things like Nintendo games and anime. With the exchange programs, this media turned from something fun to something interesting. Now I compare how a culture’s media differs from my own, and most importantly why. Our world is not homogeneous, and it was important for me to realize early on that I needed to think about how different cultures aren’t worse, but just have different viewpoints. This is what I mean when I say I can’t imagine myself without the cultural exchange program.

Another way this exchange program has affected me is in the connections our family made with the students. Even after the students left, our family still stayed in contact with some of the students and their families. This showed me that even through barriers of language and distance, people can still stay in connection. Some of my more happy memories relating to the exchange programs are the cards we get for the new year. These cards, while continuing to show me other cultures, also showed the impact I’ve had on others lives and the long term connections that can be forged from small times. Perhaps the biggest example of this is the exchange student that came back to Salem with his mom. This was very touching, the exchange student felt moved enough by his experience in this program that he wanted to visit us again, and see the sights with his family.

For the future, this program inspired me to look outside of America. I’m currently planning to take the exchange program to Japan, as I’ve seen what it does for not only exchange students, but also for my own family, and I want that experience to be a part of me. I want to immerse myself in another culture and see different sights. When looking towards the future after college, I’ve started to think about other countries as opportunities for jobs and living. High up on that list is Japan, because the exchange program let me see more of it.

Overall, the OTA exchange program has had a great effect on my life, opening my eyes to other cultures and opportunities. Whether I end up taking them is up for future me to decide, but I know that my experience with the exchange program will not be forgotten.