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East Oakland students head to East Asia for cultural experience

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SAN FRANCISCOEast Oakland students from Castlemont High’s Pacific Bridge Club boarded a flight from SFO on Tuesday afternoon heading to East Asia for the adventure of a lifetime. For some students, this is their first time on a plane.

Fifteen students, along with five mentors and teaching chaperones, are heading abroad to three different East Asian countries as part of a program bridging East Oakland to the rest of the world.

Jonathan Guy, a social sciences teacher at Castlemont, and the leader of the Pacific Bridge Club (PCB) said the kids will spend 14 days traveling through Japan, Taiwan, and the Philippines.

At SFO, while they checked in for their flights and said their goodbyes to their parents, the students were sporting matching jackets for this year’s theme: Stop AAPI hate. They wore the same jackets for the Chinese New Year parade in San Francisco in February.

“This was a club that started out of my classroom,” said Guy. “It was students who just really wanted to travel.”

For the last six years, PCB has created a space for Castlemont students to learn about different cultures.

“We’ve been to Turkey, China, Egypt, Thailand, and Costa Rica,” Guy said.

“We start off by helping people in our community, like food banks, and volunteering at other places, and we take what we practice here, all over the world and then we take what we learn there, back here,” said a senior at Castlemont, Genesis Landrum.

Last week, nearly 30 Japanese students visited East Oakland, shadowing Castlemont students.

Landrum said she will be reunited with the teen who shadowed her at Castlemont.

“I’ve never thought I’d make a friend in another country, that’s crazy, but I think I did,” Landrum said with a smile.

Now, it’s time for 15 Castlemont students to return the favor and visit the Japanese school.

Guy said the students will do a number of volunteering activities and cultural sightseeing. He also said they will visit universities and engage in educational experiences.

Many of the students said they have never traveled outside the US before.

“I’ve never been on a plane before, so this is something crazy,” Landrum explained. “I’ve never even been in an airport!”

Another student, Decorea Reed, also a senior, said this is his second year participating in the program. “I’m the first to travel out of the country in my family.”

Students said the club teaches them responsibility, respect for others, and helps them out of their shell.

“I used to be a shy person, scared of everything, now I can just go up to anybody and speak,” said senior Ismael Sencion Zuno.

It’s a trip that cost more than $40,000, but is paid for by fundraising, sponsorships, and donations.

As the students got ready for their adventure, they said they’ll make memories to last a lifetime.

“I’m most looking forward to the Philippines because we’re going to these islands and I’m looking forward to the beaches,” said senior Diego Garcia. “That’s something I’m really excited for because I heard the water is really clear.”

“I’m equally excited for both Japan and the Philippines, to try out the food and see how the culture is out there,” said Sencion Zuno.

Guy said he wants to expand the program to other schools in Oakland.

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