SANTA ANA : Dream Trip to Japan Comes True for Pupil

Fernando Avila could write a book about how badly he wants to visit Japan, but after penning an award-winning essay, he doesn't have to.

Fernando, a student at Willard Intermediate School, recently won first prize in a national essay contest, earning a trip to Japan. The 12-year-old is one of six students nationwide who won all-expenses paid, 13-day trips that include a trip to Tokyo, rides on a bullet train, a visit to a Kabuki theater performance and a stay with a Japanese family.

Fernando, who left for Japan on Sunday, said in an interview Friday that the trip is "the best thing that ever happened to me." The youngster won by writing one of the winning 300-word essays answering the question, "Why should I be chosen to go on the trip?" in a contest for students sponsored by TDK Corp. Fernando's essay covered Japanese culture, customs and technology.

"Not a lot of kids get this opportunity. But if you really work for it, you can accomplish almost anything," he said. "That's what I thought when I won."

Fernando didn't win the trip without help. Because student contest winners need chaperons, their teachers had to write essays answering why they should be allowed to accompany them and describe what makes their students especially deserving of the trip. The winners were chosen as a team, said Teresa Gertsman, Fernando's teacher and new traveling companion.

Gertsman, 29, said she was ecstatic to learn she would accompany her student, whose curiosity and motivation featured prominently in her own essay. "One of my biggest points was how tenacious he is. He was so interested in the contest that he had his essay done two weeks before the deadline, and I hadn't even written mine yet. Every day he was asking me, 'Have you written your essay? Have you written your essay?' Plus, he's really, really bright," she said.

Fernando said he looked forward to representing the United States and learning about a culture he finds fascinating. Plus, he said, trips like this one are important in fostering cooperation between different societies.

"I think it's really important to get an idea of how people are in other countries and what do they do, so we can know each other and better understand each other," he said.

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