It all started in 1962 with a phone call to the Rayner family.
Someone from their local high school in Maryland called Jacque Leedom (nee Rayner) and her family asking if they would be interested in hosting an AFS Exchange Student for the coming year. Hosting sounded like an enjoyable family experience with many benefits, so they said “yes!”
“They were interested in doing fun things and expanding their knowledge of other countries,” said Jacque of her parents.
Little did they know that they would gain an extra family member from their AFS hosting experience, and their friendship would remain 55 years later.
Yokko Kurahashi was one of two students who was chosen from Tochigi prefecture in Japan to study abroad in 1962. She was assigned to stay with the Rayner family, who owned a fruit nursery in Salisbury. They had three daughters, but two were already married, and the youngest, Jacque, was the only child in the house.
“They looked exactly like the photos I had received,” Yokko recalls. “They were somewhat worried about how I would receive them or how they would receive me.”
When the Rayners and Yokko met for the first time, they hit it off right away. Apprehensions quickly disappeared as they excitedly learned about each other and their shared experiences. Lola Rayner, Jacque’s mother, even bought Jacque and Yokko matching pajamas to celebrate Yokko’s arrival. Yokko says, “One thing [I remember] is the kindness and thoughtfulness of Mother Rayner. The whole family was welcoming, and I was very fortunate.”
Yokko left the Rayners in 1963, but it wouldn’t be the last time they would see each other. Yokko had become the Rayners’ daughter and Jacque’s sister. “We’re very close. When we’re together, it’s like we’ve never been apart, and yet we’re from two different cultures and worlds. I think that we both think the world of each other,” Jacque says.
As life would have it, Yokko and Jacque would have many opportunities to see each other again. When Yokko’s husband was attending business school in New York, when Yokko was visiting her daughter who lived in New York, when Jacque flew to Japan to visit Yokko, or when Jacque and her husband visited Hong Kong, Jacque and Yokko reunited every chance they had!
“I can say that my experience as an AFS Student had a big influence on my decision to be an interpreter,” Yokko says about AFS’s role in her life. “I flew for Pan American for a while and I became a simultaneous translator [for the medical and pharmaceutical field] and that’s what I’ve been doing. I think my experience with AFS and the Rayner family had a big impact on my decisions.”
It has been almost two years since Jacque and Yokko reunited, and Jacque is already awaiting the next time she will see her sister.
“I just think I wouldn’t let it slip. She means the world to me, so I’m not going to let her go, and I’m going to be with her, and talk to her, and have her be a part of my life, as long as I’m alive,” says Jacque.
To learn about how you can create life-long global friendships like Yokko and the Rayners, meet the AFS Exchange Students coming to your area this fall!