Dillingham sophomore plans journey abroad
Connor Ito may only be 15, but she's been planning this summer for years now.
In July, Ito is joining six other young women on a trip to Japan through the Alaska Girl Scouts. The journey is the second part of an exchange arranged with a group of Japanese Girl Scouts who came to Alaska last summer.
Ito, a Dillingham resident, is the only traveler not from the Anchorage area. She's been getting to know her fellow travelers through video conferencing, allowing her to be a part of the group and the preparation even though she's relatively far away.
In just a few months, she'll join the other girls and two chaperons in Anchorage, then travel to Tokyo. The educational and cultural events planned for the trip center around the city, but Ito said they'll be getting out to the country as well. She's particularly excited about the group's journey to climb Mount Fuji — an idea that came from Ito herself.
"I've been taking Japanese language since last year," Ito said, and she hopes to be fluent in the language one day.
Ito's interest in Japan goes beyond just this trip.
"It's part of my heritage," Ito said. "I'm half Japanese on my dad's side, and I've always been fascinated by Japan. Partially from stories I've read and stories I heard from my grandparents."
As one would expect, a trip overseas doesn't come cheap, and Ito has been hard at work raising money for the last year.
She saves money from her job as a tutor, she sells crafts at bazaars, and of course goes the traditional Girl Scout route with selling cookies. Ito is part of a program called cookie credits, where a dollar from every box she sells goes toward her trip.
She's sold around 720 boxes so far, getting that much closer to the $4,000 she needs for the trip.
When all this hard work finally pays off this summer, Ito will be off on the first major trip of her life. She's also the first of her immediate family to travel overseas.
"We are really proud of her," said Connor's mom Nicole Ito. "I can say I'm totally excited for her to be able to go on an international trip, but it's also, you know, a little scary."
Despite the natural parental worries, Nicole said she knows the girls are in good hands. The exchange has a 34-year history, she said, and she knows her daughter will benefit from the experience.
"There's a lot of commitment between the Girl Scouts in Alaska and (those in) Japan to put together a really wonderful program for all of the girls," Nicole said.
And the travel isn't the only beneficial part of it.
The amount of paperwork required to apply is a good learning opportunity for any teenager, Nicole said, and she's glad Connor has some of that practical experience under her belt now.
Above all, the trip will certainly be one of a lifetime, Nicole said, and hopefully the doorway to a lifetime of learning.
"I wanted to reinforce her love of wanting to try new things and meet new people," Nicole said. "I think it will open her eyes to how big the world is, and how many things there are for us to explore and be curious about. I'm hoping she will be able to connect with some of these girls and make some lifelong friendships."
Connor has been a part of the Girl Scouts for 11 years, and in many ways has become a leader and role model for the younger scouts.
"I wrangle the little girls when they need wrangling, and I help plan events," Ito said.
When she's not wrangling or traveling or working or studying, Ito takes advantage of the abundant outdoor adventures found in her own backyard. From fishing and hunting to volleyball, and all of the rest of her endeavors, Connor Ito is one busy young woman.