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FCHS senior attends Governor’s Japanese Academy
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Courtesy Photo: Samantha Flora poses in front of a fountain at the Tanabata Festival, which she attended while participating in the 28th annual Virginia Governor’s Japanese Academy at Randolph Macon College in Ashland. She is wearing a yukata, which is traditional Japanese dress.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014


Samantha Flora, a rising senior at Franklin County High School, just returned home from the trip to the 28th annual Virginia Governor's Japanese Academy at Randolph Macon College in Ashland.

Flora was one of only 38 Virginia high school students chosen to attend the academy out of over 600 applicants. She is also the first from Franklin County to attend the Japanese Academy and one of the only ones chosen from Southwest Virginia.

"Most of the students chosen were from Northern Virginia, Richmond and the Tidewater area," said Flora.

Flora was selected through a rigorous statewide process that began over six months ago when she was first nominated by her foreign language instructor, Renae Lambert.

Flora said she knew nothing about the Japanese language, but has taken three years of Spanish at FCHS.

"My sister's friend is from Japan, so that's how I became interested in the Japanese culture," said Flora. "The 17-page application also required me to write two essays. I wasn't expecting to get in. I'd heard how good the program was and I just didn't think I would be chosen, so it was a surprise."

Though she was excited to be chosen, she was also anxious about leaving home for so long and missing out on her summer plans.

"Ms. Lambert really wanted me to give it a try, so I decided I really wanted to take advantage of this opportunity," said Flora. "I'm so glad I did. It was really a challenge because I was slow to learn the language, but I wouldn't take back the experience at all."

Flora spent three weeks of her summer learning and experiencing the Japanese language and culture through hands-on activities and real-life situations.

Academy students learned, not with textbooks and CDs, but by using the language and experiencing the culture with a staff that included native speakers.

Participants attended creative language and culture classes, such as art, music and Japanese customs, each day to encourage them to take an active part in their learning.

The language learning extended beyond the classroom with visits to Japanese related sites, community service, and afternoon activities, like cooking, soccer, volleyball, folk dancing and singing.

"I got to participate in a traditional Japanese tea ceremony, and I learned to cook Japanese food," said Flora. "We also made our own taikos, which are drums played in much of the j-pop music (Japanese pop music)."

Flora said she left with a greater appreciation for the Japanese culture in general.

"It was very interesting and exciting to learn about their culture, their everyday life and about the average day for a Japanese student," she said. "Japanese students bow to their teachers, and every student learns English as a second language the moment they enter school."

"They don't have janitors. The students clean the classrooms themselves and they don't have buses," she added. "Most of them ride their bikes to school."

Flora plans to continue learning the Japanese language through software.

"I've always wanted to teach, and that stayed in the back of my mind as I learned of a jet program that would allow me to live in Japan for a year and teach English to Japanese students," said Flora.

Flora is also considering Liberty University and pursuing a degree in family and consumer sciences.

"I admire the commitment this young lady has to enriching her education by attending this summer program," said Jodie Robinson, gifted and talented coordinator for Franklin County public schools. "Giving up three to four weeks of your summer takes a lot of dedication and devotion, and I am so excited for Samantha."

The Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) sponsors five Governor's Foreign Language Academies each summer.

Flora's mother, Kim, said she is grateful to the Franklin County School Board and to the VDOE for sponsoring her daughter's academy experience.

Flora is the daughter of Kim Flora of Glade Hill and David Flora of Rocky Mount.

For more information about the Governor's Foreign Language Academies, visit

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