Fifteen-year-old Japanese exchange students Yui Matsumiya and Reina Yanagisawa are flanked by their homestay mom Alicia Brown

Relationship-building through cultural exchange

Japanese students visit Saanich to learn and explore

While most teenagers are probably not too interested in spending part of their overseas summer vacation in a classroom, 14 students from Kitakamakura Girls’ high school in Japan have no problem with it.

The Japanese girls, on an exchange in Saanich this week through Muskoka Language International, are getting an authentic B.C. experience as ESL students at Pacific Christian Secondary and as tourists.

“So far they’ve been having a good time in classroom studies. They’ve learned a little bit about the provinces and territories, and we’ve had a lot of activities to try and get them communicating details about themselves in English: favourite foods, pets, family members,” said Sarah Carrie, program co-ordinator for the Victoria division of MLI.

“Here (in Canada) is when they work on their spoken language. They can practise writing in English at home, but when they’re here it’s important they start practising how they say the words.”

But the exchange doesn’t see the girls stuck in a classroom the entire time. Hikes through Goldstream Provincial Park and Christmas Hill, and visits to the Royal B.C. Museum, The Butchart Gardens, Swan Lake Nature Sanctuary and Victoria Butterfly Gardens are also part of their weeklong experience in Greater Victoria.

MLI sends upwards of 450 Japanese students to Saanich on an annual basis, allowing both local and foreign teenagers the chance to get up close and personal with a drastically different culture.

“I think it’s really important for them to have the experience of exchange,” Carrie said. “For the Japanese students, this gives them the cultural experience and it also shows them the diversity of our city – the history, the natural history, the First Nations history.”

Alicia Brown, a home stay parent currently hosting two  Kitakamakura students, says the cultural differences and language barriers are easy to overcome when a young traveller comes in to your home.

“It’s really quite interesting because I wasn’t sure at first how we were going to manage, but they’re so polite. I have two children and they are so excited every time we have students,” Brown says. “They’re just so much joy to the kids. They have a lot of fun and they play with the children. That cultural interaction is so important.”

Brown says she provides an authentic experience to the students by treating them as her own children, knowing full well they may be scared travelling without their parents and staying with strangers.

“They’re well taken care of here, like my children, and they’re very loved when they come to my home,” she said. “I love to take them downtown and show them what Victoria’s all about. And they’re amazed. They feel so blessed being part of it – you can see it in their eyes how they get so excited.”

Aya Okada, a Grade 10 student, said her first impressions of Canada were how relaxed people are and how beautiful our natural environment is.

“Canada is very big,” the 15-year-old said. She and her classmates will spend the rest of the week in Victoria, then travel to Vancouver on Monday.

Students from Kitakamakura have been coming to Victoria for the past eight years, thanks to an ever-growing relationship between Carrie and Ms. Oda, a Grade 10 teacher from the Japanese school.

Carrie says she’s continually impressed by how open the Japanese students are to the experience.

“The international program does bring a lot to our local community and economy, in terms of the learning, cultural exchange and the downtown and Saanich economies,” she said.

“It’s an equal sharing experience on both sides. It’s not just about ‘this is what we do here.’ The students love to learn about other cultures because it can only make it better for awareness.”

kslavin@saanichnews.com

 

 

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