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Japanese students road-trip with a new “nakama,” or friend

Photo courtesy of Zach DeLoach Zach DeLoach invited several foreign exchange students on a trip to the Omaha Henry Doorly Zoo.

UNK freshman, Zach DeLoach, was shooting hoops outside of Mantor, when a group of international students asked him to play.

They were surprised to hear DeLoach utter the greeting he learned in his Japanese 100 course, “Hajimenmashite, Zach desu, dozo yoroshiku.” 

This translates to, “Hello for the first time. My name is Zach. Thank you very much.” 

From there, what started as a basketball game, evolved into a friendship connecting two sides of the world. “They’re just the nicest people on the planet,” DeLoach said. “They taught me the word for friend which is ‘nakama.’ They taught me about what it meant, and they’re just a really wholesome group of guys.”

DeLoach developed an interest in the Japanese language and changed his major to elementary education with an endorsement in English as a second language. 

Several basketball games later, DeLoach planned a road trip during fall break with his newfound friends to the Omaha Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium. In the search for a second car, DeLoach convinced a fellow Kearney High School alumni to help him drive 10 Japanese students to Omaha.

 “If I was someone from a different country, I’d want to see kind of the cooler parts of Nebraska,” DeLoach said. “I just thought that having someone from America to take them to cool places and just to hang out with them—they would probably really appreciate that.”

In 2014, TripAdvisor named Henry Doorly, the world’s best zoo in its Travelers’ Choice awards for Zoos and Aquariums. The zoo was ranked second-best five years later by USA Today 10 Best Readers Choice Awards. 

Naturally, the students from Japan compared Henry Doorly to their hometown zoos. 

“Tobe Zoo is my hometown zoo, and it’s a famous Japanese zoo,” said Kyohei Nakamura, a UNK freshman planning to major in aviation. “It’s bigger and that zoo has white [polar] bears and pandas. We can also touch the rabbits and marmots and catch them there.”

Others were impressed by the Henry Doorly’s size and attractions. 

“The Henry [Doorly] Zoo was huge, and we had to walk a lot,” said Oki Asakura, an aviation freshman. “The aquarium was kind of similar to what we have in Japan.”

The Lopers also explored the Desert Dome & Kingdoms of the Night exhibits and the sea lion exhibit, which was a favorite among the group. Other destinations Nakamura and Asakura wish to visit in America include New York and Los Angeles. 

Until then, the international students shared some of their culture with DeLoach by taking him to eat Japanese cuisine and shop at an oriental store in Omaha. 

“They taught me how to use chopsticks and that it’s okay to slurp your noodles in Japan,” DeLoach laughed. “They’re so quick to teach me things, and that’s so cool because it’s very mutual in that way, and I also taught them how to do like a cool handshake.”

The students assist each other with English and Japanese pronunciation. DeLoach said he appreciates the help because in the future, he hopes to teach English at schools in Japan.

At the end of the day, the UNK students left with a better understanding of each other’s cultures. 

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