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Milton student exchange program celebrates 20 years

The Ananstasiades family of Hanover hosted a Japanese student last summer. Enjoying a day at the beach were Alex, Mia, and Kelsey Ananstasiades and Natsu Sekii.

HOSTING JAPANESE STUDENT: Summer vacation for a lot of families in the Boston area includes taking in ball games, museums, boat rides, and all manner of fair-weather activities. For the Ananstasiades family of Hanover last summer, and many others in the area, it meant doing all that with a Japanese exchange student along for the cultural ride for two weeks.

The Ananstasiades clan of Michael and Jennifer Ananstasiades, their children, Alex, 12, Mia, 11, and Kelsey, 6, along with Japanese teenager Natsu Sekii, took part in the free Milton-based Explore Japan program last summer, which is now in its 20th year. Jennifer Ananstasiades said it was a great learning adventure for her family and the young woman they hosted.


“We thought it would be great to have someone visit from another country,” she said, “to learn our cultures and show what we do here. The kids loved it.”

Steven B. Shapiro, the program’s director and founder, said both sides of the cultural fence are eager to exchange ideas about the lives they lead.

“You make them part of the family,” Shapiro said of the program in which more than 60 host families south of Boston took part last year. “They want to learn about life in America and practice their English skills. They also want to tell you about their country and culture.”

There are still slots available for this summer’s program, Shapiro said. For information, visit

At first, the language barrier proved slightly problematic, Ananstasiades said. But Sekii proved a quick study.

“She had some English, but it got a lot better over the weeks,” she said. “And she had a little translator device she used to help her learn.”

Sekii went along with the family to Fenway Park, the Museum of Fine Arts, Plimoth Plantation, and “all the sightseeing stuff,” Ananstasiades said. And she also got to celebrate her 16th birthday here.


“We took her to dinner — all the waiters sang her ‘Happy Birthday,’ ” she said. “And that was just her second day with us.”

The program embraces Japanese culture in a variety of workshops held daily in the session that begins in late July, all held at Milton High School. They include lessons on Japanese language, arts and crafts, cooking, martial arts, calligraphy, and other cultural exercises, as well as field trips.

“Our kids loved the camp, doing Japanese activities in the mornings, and the field trips were awesome,” Ananstasiades said. “They really loved getting to know Natsu.”

The family wanted to participate in the program again this year, but there were too many scheduling conflicts, she said. They hope to do it next summer. At the end of the program last year, it was hard to let go, she said.

“My [then] 5-year-old was crying,” she said of Kelsey. “But we’ve kept in touch through e-mail and letters.”

Another thing the family learned was just how well traveled their young guest was.

“We just found out Natsu is going to Canada for a year to study,” Ananstasiades said. “I’m amazed to hear how many different things she’s done. She’s been to more countries than I have, and she’s only 16.”

YARD SALE TO BENEFIT DIABETES CENTER: Lily Jeswald of Lakeville is gearing up for her annual yard sale to donate half the proceeds to the Joslin Diabetes Center. The seventh-grader at Freetown-Lakeville Middle School was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 4, and for the last few years has raised money for the center, to date a total of more than $2,000. She has also worked as a patient advocate for Joslin by running a game booth at the center at its annual Halloween event, and last year was the face of the Joslin “High Hopes” campaign, when her photo was on a brochure sent to thousands of people.


Earlier this year, she placed third in the Miss Massachusetts Outstanding Teen Pageant. Jeswald’s yard sale will be held July 12-13 at 24 Montgomery St., Lakeville. Anyone interested in donating items can reach her mother, Kim Jeswald, at 508-245-2985 or

BUSINESS BRIEFS: Al Becker of Norwood was appointed vice president of marketing and operations for Norwell-based real estate company Jack Conway & Co. He was promoted from marketing director of the firm, where he’s worked since 2007 . Becker was named one of 12 Bay State professionals under age 40 in Banker & Tradesman’s New Leaders for 2010. He also coaches youth basketball and serves on the boards of Father Bill’s & MainSpring, the Norwood Basketball Association, and the Conway Charity Golf for the Homeless program.

Melanie Vaux Scalli was named director of the Weymouth Club’s group exercise and mind and body program. She’s been involved with group exercise programs for 24 years, and for the past two years was district group manager for the Boston Sports Club.


Plymouth & Brockton Street Railway Co. is scheduled to resume its summer trolley service Sunday. The business, a family owned independent company since 1888, marks the fifth year running the service, which company president George Anzuoni said “is a valuable service for tourists as well as local residents.” The trolley tours, known as “America’s Hometown Shuttle,” provide narrated drives through Plymouth, and run every day through the last Sunday in August. Tickets can be purchased from the trolley driver at any stop, or at a ticket kiosk at Mayflower State Park next to Plymouth Rock. Adult ticket prices start at $10. For information, visit

Paul E. Kandarian can be reached at