Elms College said “Hajimemashte!” — which means “Nice to meet you!” — last month to 9 students from the University of Kochi in Japan as part of a longtime exchange program between the two schools. The visitors from Kochi spent 12 days exploring life at a close-knit Western Massachusetts college.

This is the exchange’s 17th consecutive year. Each year, the Kochi students stay in residence halls at Elms, study English, attend classes related to their majors, and take in Western Massachusetts sights and cuisine.

This year’s Kochi cohort comprises majors in social work, nutrition and humanities; the professor accompanying them is Joel Joos, who teaches Japanese history at the University of Kochi. Elms College’s director of social work, Maureen Holland, is taking them to areas of Chicopee, Springfield and Holyoke to see social work in action.

Marco Garcia, director of international programs, at Elms, hopes the Kochi students will learn “that America is still open to everybody coming and visiting.”

“We’re a country of welcoming everybody, and we want to promote international education and exchange, because never, in our global society that’s always changing, has international education and exchange been as important as it is now,” Garcia said.

This year’s cohort visited Old Sturbridge Village and Bowe Elementary School to gain a more in-depth understanding of American history, culture, and school systems. In addition to English instruction, the Kochi students attended Elms classes in topics such as business, child development, sociology, American history, human behavior, and world religions.

During the 12-day visit, approximately 35 Elms students served as Friendship Partners for the Japanese students. These Friendship Partners participated in a three-hour training course to act as roommates, classmates and partners in language and cultural activities.

“We’re worked hard to get Friendship Partners,” Garcia said, “because as the Japanese students come in, we want them to be able to meet a diverse group of students here, so they have a deeper understanding of American life and culture. Our students are very diverse. And that’s really important, because we are a nation of immigrants, and understanding the strength of our diversity is very important.”

Special extracurricular activities — including bowling, shopping in Northampton, film screenings, and a karaoke party — allowed the Kochi students to experience the fun side of American college life.

The Kochi-Elms group hosted a Japanese festival on March 3 in the Dooley Center dining hall. The whole campus was invited to take part in calligraphy demonstrations, sample Japanese cuisine, and view a Japanese Girls’ Day doll display.

This exchange program “opens up the world” to Elms students and gives visiting Japanese students a global perspective on their academic studies, said Joyce Hampton, Ed.D., dean of student success and strategic initiatives.

“I hope our students begin to see themselves as global citizens,” Hampton said. “I think that’s really important. Not to see the other as so very, very different, and really to take the opportunity to see what binds us as people with common concerns and common interests.”