Twenty students from Kanagawa, Japan paid a visit to Catonsville High School to share some of their customs, including Origami and tea-making. The Japanese students are also getting to experience what an American high school is like. (Brian Krista/BSMG)

Girls in bright yellows, pinks and reds and boys in deep blues and greens zoomed around a conference room at Catonsville High School Thursday in a frenzy to get changed between lunch and fourth period.

The 20 students were not Catonsville Comets.

They are from Kanagawa, Japan, visiting the area from March 19 through 28 and staying with host families in the Catonsville area.

They were running back and forth from the school library on March 21 carrying large boxes and donning Japanese yukatas — a lighter, summer version of the kimono — preparing to host a traditional Japanese tea ceremony for Catonsville students to show their appreciation to their hosts.

"We would like to thank the school and students," said Yumiko Ishida, who teaches English at Yokosuka Meiko High School in Kanagawa. "To show our gratitude, we do the tea ceremony."

The students from the 450-student Meiko High prepared traditional green tea —made from a fine powder of ground tea leaves whisked into hot water —and demonstrated the Japanese art of origami paper folding while offering common snacks and teas from Japan for about 40 students from Catonsville High School last week.

The tea ceremony was just one of several experiences for the exchange students while visiting Catonsville.

In addition to seeing music, physical education and Japanese language classes at Catonsville High School, they will also visit Washington, D.C. on their last day in the states.

"The school showed us around a lot of different types of classes," Ishida said. "It's very interesting.

"The way we handle curriculum, the way we teach, it's very different," she said.

Though they said they were very nervous about coming to the states, the students were all smiles Thursday as they interacted with their Catonsville counterparts.

"I love the school, because all the students are all so kind and so friendly," said Kyoko Tanaka, an 11th-grader at Meiko High.

She said she really enjoyed attending physical education class.

"We played basketball with ninth-grade students," Kyoko said.

Yokosuka Meiko High School has been a sister school to Catonsville High School for about 30 years, said Gentaro Tatsumi, the other English teacher from Japan accompanying the students.

Once every three years, the students in the school, which only has tenth through twelfth grades, are given one opportunity to travel abroad to Catonsville for a chance to experience the culture and education in the United States.

After hearing about the program over their summer vacation in July, the Japanese students must send in an application and go through an interview process about "why they want to come to Catonsville," Ishida said.

Practice makes perfect

Once in Maryland, the Japanese students are granted an opportunity that rarely arises at home: speaking English with other students their own age.

"These students have good grades, they're smart," Ishida said.