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Teen raises money for Japan travel

Boy’s mother says the trip will open his eyes to the world

Posted: June 15, 2009 10:43 p.m.
Updated: June 16, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Thirteen-year-old Caleb Bae of Canyon Country is $1,500 away from paying off his trip to Japan next month. Through the People to People Ambassador Programs organization, Bae will spend 14 days traveling all over Japan with seven other local students.

 
Caleb Bae, 13, feels a connection to Japan and its culture.

It started with a trip to Pearl Harbor when he was 9 years old that sparked a curiosity about history.

"I've had a desire to learn more about World War II," said Caleb, an eighth-grader at Trinity Classical Academy.

A quarter Korean and a mix of European ethnicities, Caleb has always wondered about his heritage and the connections between Korean and Japanese history.

But it's Japan's way of life that fascinates Caleb the most.

"It's very different from America," he said. "The culture and how they interact with each other is different."

While he's studied the Asian country and its people on his own, the only time Caleb set foot in Japan was during a stopover at Tokyo International Airport when his family was on its way to Korea.

But the 13-year-old from Canyon Country is about to live out his dream, thanks to his acceptance in People to People International's Student Ambassador Program. Because of that program, he will travel to Japan for 14 days with seven other students from Los Angeles County.

In September, Caleb received a letter in the mail from People to People International, an educational student travel program started by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, giving him the opportunity to apply for the summer ambassador program to Japan.

"We thought it would be pretty cool, a good learning experience," Caleb said.

The trip will take Caleb to all parts of Japan. As part of the experience, Caleb will be able to climb Mt. Fuji, meet political leaders and visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

After a detailed application process, Caleb received news in October notifying him of his spot in the program.

"I'm looking forward to spending time in a Japanese town for three days," he said.

It's the first time Caleb will be traveling for an extended period of time on his own.

Paula Bae, his mother, is worried, but understands what the experience can do for him.

"As a mom, of course there's a million fears, but that's part of him growing up," Paula Bae said.

And she's not particularly concerned about Caleb's well-being while in Japan, even given historic animosity between the Japanese and Korean cultures.

She looks forward to the experience that she hopes will open his eyes up to the world.

"I look at it as an investment of who he's going to be," Paula Bae said.

But Caleb's hard work hasn't stopped since receiving his acceptance letter.

Since getting into the program, Caleb has worked odd jobs in his community, from washing cars to recycling and pet-sitting for friends, to raise money.

Supporters donated enough items to the Bae family so they could host three garage sales, and Caleb found sponsorships from Drs. Cecelia Hann and Don Nishiguchi, the Lions Club of Castaic, WellSpring Christian Fellowship and Ramboard Inc.

He's raised $5,100 so far, with every dollar going toward his trip.

"I thought I'd be lucky to get $3,000 or $4,000," he said.

With less than a month to go, Caleb is continuing his fundraising plan with unique ideas.

Today, Paula Bae, a Hart High School science teacher, will lead 12 kids in the dissection of a squid. The kids involved donated money toward Caleb's trip for the chance to see squid innards up close and personal.

His family remains amazed at Caleb's accomplishments.

"That's a hefty amount to raise," Paula Bae said. "If he can do it at 13, what can he do the rest of his life?"


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