“We were called host parents, and that is exactly what we became,” Gene McDaniel said.
Yoko Koketsu, an exchange student from Gifu, Japan, was a junior in high school when she arrived at the McDaniels’ home. She said her time at Carbon Hill High School through the 1999-2000 school year was fun, and the McDaniels became family to her as well.
“They were wonderful to me during my time in the United States,” Koketsu said. “I love them very much.”
After being away from the United States since leaving the McDaniels’ home, Koketsu spent last week in Nauvoo. Now 29, she works as a sales assistant in Tokyo for Givaudan.
“It is a flavor/food service company,” she said. “They are also in the United States.”
McDaniel said Koketsu’s week back in the United States was fairly low key. He said she was a special guest at last weekend’s annual Nauvoo Car Show and she went on a tour of tornado damage in Cordova and Tuscaloosa.
“We tried to spend as much time with her as we could,” he said. “We wanted to catch up as much as we could.”
Koketsu was in Tokyo when a large earthquake hit that set off the tsunami that left 20,000 Japanese dead or missing and devastated much of the country. She said the tornado damage in Alabama was similar but not as widespread as what Japan saw after the earthquake.
“In Japan whole towns are gone,” she said. “The tornadoes are different. I was surprised at how a tornado moves a lot. The damage was bad. It was worse than I expected.”
McDaniel said he and his wife had stayed in contact with Koketsu since she had returned to Japan through emails and phone calls, but the frequency of their conversations have increased since the earthquake and tsunami.
“She called us to let us know she was OK after the earthquake hit,” he said. “Before that, we would talk every so often, but now we usually speak at least weekly through Skype on the computer.”
After a week in Nauvoo, Koketsu wasn’t ready to leave, and the McDaniels hated to see her go again.
“She likes it here, but she is obligated to her job, so she has to go,” McDaniel said Friday morning. “It’s sad to see her go. We have certainly enjoyed her being back. I’m taking her to the Memphis airport this afternoon and she will fly to Los Angeles then to Tokyo. It will take her 20 hours to get home to Japan.”